A closer look at Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research shows how pro-life the public actually is

By Dave Andrusko

Earlier this month I posted an encouraging story under the headline, “Two-thirds of White Evangelical Protestants stand firmly against abortion; 79% approve of President Trump’s job performance.” My first sentence read, “A poll released Thursday affirmed that white Evangelicals remain staunchly pro-life and that they overwhelmingly approve of President Trump’s job performance.”

Everything about the story was accurate but, in retrospect, courtesy of a post at National Review Online, I should had taken a minute out to explain how the poll conducted by The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research seriously underestimated how much pro-life sentiment was hidden away by the manner in which the question was asked.

By way of introduction, the more nuanced—that is, the more carefully the question is phrased and then followed up—the more the pro-life number rises.

So just 37% of respondents —when asked whether they favored “making abortion illegal except in cases of rape or incest, or when the life of the pregnant woman is at risk—said either “slightly favored” or “strongly favored.”

But as we have documented dozens of times, other polls, by NBC News, Marist (for the Knights of Columbus), and Gallup show higher numbers. In 2019, for example, Marist found that a total of 48% said that abortion should be available only in cases of rape, incest or to save the mother’s life (28%); only to save the mother’s life (10%); or should never be permitted (10%).

When you add, “Only during the first three months of pregnancy” (27%), the total reaches 75%.

Even more illuminating is that in 2019 Lynda Saad of Gallup (once the numbers were broken down from more general to more specific) found that

60% of Americans say abortion should either not be legal at all or only legal in a few circumstances.

We can’t flatly state that “a few circumstances” refers to rape, incest, and life of mother because it was asked. But that, traditionally, is what is meant—the “hard cases,” as it is often phrased.

As we alluded to at the beginning, the Associated Press, in its coverage of its own poll, “found that 67% of white evangelical Protestant would make abortion illegal except in cases of rape, incest or to threats to the mother’s life.” But when the AP went on to write

Those abortion limits drew 39% support from white mainline Protestants, 33% support from nonwhite Protestants, 45% support from Catholics and 37% of all Americans, according to the poll of more than 1,000 American adults from various faith backgrounds conducted by The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research. …

it seriously misstated where the American public is on abortion.