Abortion and the Gender Gap, Ctd.

by Ramesh Ponnuru

In an article for NRO yesterday, I went through some of the evidence against the conventional wisdom that it’s the Republican party’s opposition to abortion that’s responsible for the gender gap. On Twitter, Christine Matthews, the president of Bellwether Research, brought my attention to some data I hadn’t taken account of. (See, Twitter is useful for something.)

She raises the possibility that even if women do not have appreciably different views about abortion policy, on average, from men, they may hold those votes more intensely. They may, that is, be more likely to vote on it. That appears to be the case. Matthews points to a Pew poll from 2004 that found that women on both sides of the abortion issue were more likely to vote on the issue (a finding that gibes with other numbers I’ve seen over the years).

That poll suggests that there are more pro-choice women who vote on the issue than pro-life women, but I think the finding is misleading. What Pew did was ask people whether they favored “making it more difficult” to get an abortion. Most women (and most men) said no. Then it asked people whether they would vote for candidates who disagree with them. A higher proportion of the women who gave a pro-life answer to the first question said they wouldn’t, but there were so many more women who gave a pro-choice answer that the number of women who vote on the basis of being pro-choice was higher than the number of women who vote on the basis of being pro-life.

My reasons for skepticism about the finding include, first, the fact that most surveys over the years have shown pro-life voters are much more likely to vote on the issue than pro-choicers. (That was the consistent finding of exit pollsters in presidential elections until they stopped asking the question; it’s also the finding of this new Pew poll, also brought up by Matthews.) If pro-lifers are more likely than pro-choicers to vote on the issue, and women are more likely than men to vote on the issue, then it would be very odd to find that pro-choice women are more likely to vote on the issue than pro-life women.

Second, findings about abortion and public opinion are notoriously dependent on the wording of a question, and the “making it more difficult” question is one we could expect to have a larger result for the pro-choice side than other questions. I think the Pew 2004 result is skewed for that reason.

So, to sum up, women do not appear to differ much from men in their views about abortion policy or in their self-description as pro-life or pro-choice. Nor do we have any reason to think that this issue contributes a lot to the gender gap because pro-choice women feel so strongly about it.

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