Can we make sense of recent abortion polls? Sure!

By Dave Andrusko

Diffs-AttitudesAbortionWith the wave of abortion-related polls showing no signs of cresting, it’s useful to continue explaining and clarifying and demystifying what we’ve recently learned.

For example, columnist Mark Shields asked how we “reconcile ….apparently contradictory positions.” That was a reference (a) to a slew of recent polls that showed the public was solidly in support of banning abortions after 20 weeks, a time by which unborn babies can experience pain; and (b) the results of a poll earlier this year that showed (in Shields’ words) “By a landslide 70 percent to 24 percent, Americans opposed overturning Roe V Wade.”

Speaking of landslides Shields doesn’t talk about what we reported last week: that every category you can think of supports the ban: Republicans, Independents, women (single and married), men, young people–even a plurality of Democrats.

And he doesn’t directly answer his own question. Instead he alludes to how “miracles of medical science and technology have changed hearts and minds on the abortion issue” and concludes that “We remain ambivalent, somehow pro-choice and anti-abortion.”

Let’s dig a little deeper.

As NRL News Today has documented, the key to understanding public opinion is that when asked discerning questions, the majority of the population is opposed to the reasons for which 90% (or more) of abortions are performed. If you understand that baseline, you have a running head start on reaching the truth.

But there’s much more, part of which comes from the poll Shields references. The question asked was

“The Supreme Court’s 1973 Roe versus Wade decision established a woman’s constitutional right to an abortion, at least in the first three months of pregnancy. Would you like to see the Supreme Court completely overturn its Roe versus Wade decision or not?”

Is it any surprise that 3/4ths would not want to “completely overturn” a decision which supposedly legalized abortion only in the first trimester? In fact, of course, many jurisdictions allow abortion with no limitation or no meaningful limitation until birth!

Also last week we talked about the growing regional divide over abortion with the six New England states being even more pro-abortion and the eight South Central States more pro-life, as recorded by Pew Research . (As we noted, most stories were so eager to highlight the 35% gap between these two sets of states, they missed altogether that the seven Midwestern states had moved from a solid pro-abortion majority to 47%-47% parity.)

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There was a very telling exchange between NPR’s Renee Montagne and Michael Dimock, director of the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press,

MONTAGNE: Well, yeah. I wonder if state laws are tracking public opinion. I mean, you have Texas, the latest– mostly Southern and Midwestern – to ban abortions after the 22nd week. And in those states, almost half of residents believe abortion should be illegal in most or all cases. Are the laws following opinion or are the laws influencing opinion?

DIMOCK: That’s an excellent question and I, you know, you would think that the laws are following opinion – and I think that’s true to a large extent. But I also think that there’s a way in which the reverse can be true, again, which is that, you know, many people are conflicted over the issue. When they hear of an option that’s presented to them like restricting abortions after 20 weeks or raising the standards at clinics, we find that many of those specific restrictions sound a lot more appealing to people than a more general ban on abortions; that they can sort of fit those restrictions into the way they look at the issue, and feel comfortable that that’s a reasonable restriction.

Of course. Presenting all or nothing proposals misses all the subtleties. And I think it’s implicit in what Dimock is saying that the more people are presented with commonsense limitations, the more they say, “Hey, I agree with that!” That’s explains why pro-abortion Democrats fight so furiously to keep these specific limitations from even being discussed. Passage of pro-life laws could become habit forming.

Finally, if you are talking about all the legislation that is being passed, it’s not JUST that more Republicans are controlling more legislative bodies and the governor’s office, although that is obviously key.

It’s like a volcanic eruption. Pressure had been building for years but while there was plenty of energy (desire to pass), there was no outlet (ability to enact). Now there is this huge pent-up energy=passage of pro-life legislation.