PolitiFact Wisconsin concludes that by far, the economy, not abortion, is most important to young people

By Dave Andrusko

Photo: FamilyMan88
CC BY-SA 4.0 DEED

Pro-lifers are wary of “PolitiFact” and with good reason. It describes itself as “publish[ing] the accuracy of claims by elected officials and others on its Truth-O-Meter, a tool that rates the truthfulness of statements.”

But it seems as if every time they evaluate a pro-life statement, the results are the same: they are false. However, get a load of this from PolitiFact Wisconsin.

Hope Karnopp of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel evaluated a statement made January 21 by former Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker on WISN-TV’s Sunday morning show, “UPFRONT.” She fairly summarized his contention: “Scott Walker said college voters’ top issue is the economy, not abortion. Is he right?”

What exactly did Walker say?

 “The everyday concerns of Americans are the economy — even young people that we work with at Young America’s Foundation, our polling shows nationwide, their top issue for college students is the economy.” [Walker is “now the president of Young America’s Foundation, a group that aims to mobilize young conservatives, particularly on college campuses.”]

Walker’s “claim caught our attention, especially because turnout for the most recent statewide election in Wisconsin was dominated by liberal, college-age voters who were motivated by abortion,” Karnopp wrote. 

So, was the poll, conducted by Echelon Insights, representative of young people? Karnopp interviewed Michael McGonigle, the group’s director of public relations, who “directed PolitiFact Wisconsin to the poll highlights and the data.” Karnopp found that

The poll asked participants to select up to three of eleven issues, in randomized order, that they were most concerned about. 

The leading answer was the economy: 38% of college students and 37% of high schoolers said that was a top issue for them. 

School safety was next, though that issue was higher ranked among high schoolers, at 45%, than college students, at  29%. Then came gun policies, education, the environment and climate change. 

Sixth on the list was abortion: that was a top issue for 15% of high schoolers and 27% of college students.

After pouring through the data, she concluded, “So the heart of Walker’s claim appears correct — the group’s polling showed the economy was the top issue among college voters.”

How about the credibility of Echelon Insights?

Karnopp asked Charles Franklin, director of the Marquette Law School Poll, to review the poll.

Franklin said Echelon Insights is a “well-respected pollster.” While a couple questions were framed in a way to elicit a certain answer, he said the wordings in general were straightforward. 

“I expected to see a much more slanted survey, because interest groups normally do that. They ask questions in a way that benefit their group,” Franklin said. “So I was pretty struck by what I took to be a pretty even-handed set of questions.”

Do the results line up with other reputable polls, including the Harvard Youth Poll? “Other polls show economy is top concern of young voters, more so than abortion.”

Does YAF’s finding that the economy is the top issue for college-age voters match up with other polls?

First, let’s start with the close-to-home Marquette Law School Poll. The poll most recently asked Wisconsin voters to rate their top concerns in fall 2022. 

Among the youngest category of voters (ages 19-29), 60% said they were very concerned about inflation and higher prices, and 40% said they were somewhat concerned. Inflation was the top issue in that poll.

Now, comparing that to abortion: For the same age group in that poll, 62% were very concerned, 26% somewhat concerned, 4% not too concerned and 8% not at all concerned about abortion policy.

Finally, Franklin said the poll’s finding is common in other surveys, and voters saying they’re worried about the economy is “almost a default answer.”

“The point about abortion being considerably less (important) than the economy, that’s true in every survey of adults I’ve ever seen. Doesn’t mean it’s not important, but it’s not the most important issue for a big chunk of the public,” he said.

Based on Franklin’s evaluation, it looks like we can trust YAF’s poll.

Karnopp’s conclusion? “We rate Walker’s claim True”.