Pushing, polling, and push polling

By Dave Andrusko

National Right to Life News Today posts many stories about what public opinion polls supposedly reveal about Americans’ views on abortion. Why? 

For many reasons, but primarily (a) to reinforce the truth, hidden in plain sight because it is obscured by the major media, that we are much closer to where the public is than are pro-abortionists; and (b) that even when surveys are conducted in good faith—which is assuredly not always the case–the slightest tweak can distort the reality.

Heads up and kudos to Leah Hickman, writing for World Magazine whose Monday’s post is subtitledSurvey data reveal the public has nuanced and sometimes uninformed views on life issues.”

To her great credit Hickman conducted interviews with Lydia Saad, a veteran analyst for Gallup, and with David N. O’Steen, Ph.D., who is NRLC’s Executive Director and an expert in understanding and explaining survey data.

You’ll be doing yourself a huge favor if you read her story in its entirety. Here are a few important highlights.

Hickman’s jumping off point is the recent AP-NORC poll on abortion about which we’ve written about several times. We emphasized what we called their “top drawer” conclusion:

61% of Americans say abortion should be legal in most or all circumstances in the first trimester of a pregnancy. However, 65% said abortion should usually be illegal in the second trimester, and 80% said that about the third trimester.

The key for the remainder of Hickman’s story follows this:

The results, released last month, conflicted with other recent polling on similar issues but affirmed what pro-lifers have long observed about the views of Americans, revealing a nuanced public perspective on the politically polarizing topic.

Why the “conflict”? What is the conflict?

Gallup released data from similar questions last month but with different results. It showed 56 percent of respondents said they would oppose “a ban on abortions after the 18th week of a pregnancy,” which falls within the second trimester. In contrast, 66 percent of respondents in the AP poll said abortion should be illegal in all or most cases during the second trimester, and 81 percent thought it should illegal in the third trimester. Those results also differed from a similar Gallup poll from 2018, as March for Life president Jeanne Mancini pointed out last week. According to the 2018 results, only 28 percent of respondents said abortion should be generally legal in the second three months of pregnancy and only 13 percent said it should be generally legal in the last trimester.

And here we go, courtesy of Gallup’s Saad:

How can the same public that doesn’t support “second trimester” abortions also oppose “18-week” bans? Lydia Saad, director of U.S. social research at Gallup, said the differences come down to wording. She said the language of a “ban” could be “more onerous to people,” eliciting stronger responses, whereas wording like “generally legal” or “generally illegal” is a little less provocative. On top of that, Saad added, “We’re not saying ‘trimester.’ We’re saying 18th week. And I don’t know if people know what trimester that refers to.”

That doesn’t mean one set of survey results are invalid, though. “It’s just telling you that people are very sensitive depending on the framework and what are the factors that trigger those feelings,” Saad said.

“Feelings,” “triggers,” “frameworks…” All this interacts with (or is distorted by) a lack of background information to color the way people respond.

“You want to find out how people feel relative to what they’re going to hear from the press or the other side,” O’Steen said. “But you also want to find out how they’re going to feel if the question is framed absolutely accurately.” 

Then, perhaps, the most interesting exchange. Saad tells Hickman, “We try to stick very closely to how is the public hearing about this issue from leaders, from the news media.”

Hickman writes, “But to O’Steen, that’s just the problem: Many Americans don’t know crucial information that could help them see the problems with the pro-abortion position, and they won’t get it from mainstream culture. In its next term, the Supreme Court will hear a case about a law that protects babies from abortion after 15 weeks of gestation. O’Steen pointed out the results from the AP-NORC poll “would indicate majority support for that Mississippi bill that’s being considered.” [Emphasis added.]

To reiterate,…

#1. The language of a “ban”  could be (to quote Saad) “more onerous to people,” eliciting stronger responses, whereas wording like “generally legal” or “generally illegal” is a little less provocative.

#2.  As we’ve discussed for 4 decades+, not only does a majority of people oppose abortions except in the “hard cases,” a very strong majority of people are opposed to almost all abortions in the second and third trimester. 

#3. But, to quote Saad again, Gallup is “not saying ‘trimester.’ We’re saying 18th week. And I don’t know if people know what trimester that refers to.” 

Exactly, which is why Dr. O’Steen is absolutely correct when he says “the results of  the AP-NORC poll ‘would indicate majority support for that Mississippi bill that’s being considered’” by the Supreme Court.

Fascinating piece. I hope you read it and share with family and friends.