The aftermath of the 2012 elections has been difficult for the pro-life movement. When Republican candidates fare poorly, social conservatives often bear much of the blame, and this election cycle has certainly been no exception. Making matters worse, many pundits have argued that the Democratic party’s crusade about a Republican “war on women,” coupled with the inopportune statements by Republican U.S. Senate candidates Richard Mourdock and Todd Akin, made the pro-life position a political loser for the Republican party.
Making matters worse was a poll released by Rasmussen in the weeks after the election. It showed that “pro-choice” sentiment has increased to 54 percent, while only 38 percent of respondents described themselves as “pro-life.” This was in stark contrast to a Gallup survey from this past spring which showed that a majority of Americans described themselves as “pro-life.” The results of this Rasmussen survey were picked up by a number of a number of media outlets. Some pro-lifers quickly dismissed this particular poll as a statistical outlier, while others were quietly concerned that the dynamics of the 2012 election had significantly shifted public opinion on the abortion issue.
However, a closer look at Rasmussen’s polling history indicates that pro-lifers have relatively little to worry about. Rasmussen polls have always shown higher pro-choice sentiment than Gallup polls. This might be because Rasmussen surveys likely voters, while Gallup surveys the population as a whole. More important, the results of Rasmussen’s November poll showed very little change in abortion attitudes from a poll the firm took back in April. Rasmussen’s April survey also showed that likely voters were more likely to describe themselves as “pro-choice” rather than” pro-life,” by a 51–40 margin. In short, the “war on women” rhetoric and the statements by Akin and Mourdock only resulted in a three-percentage-point gain in “pro-choice” sentiment — a difference that falls within the poll’s margin of error.
Now as Ramesh Ponnuru points out in his December 31 National Review article, the Democrats’ emphasis on abortion and contraception this election cycle was successful in many respects. It likely succeeded in increasing turnout among pro-choice voters. It also likely made pro-choice voters more likely to cast their vote based on the abortion issue. However, the results of the Rasmussen survey provide little evidence that this fall’s election cycle substantially shifted public opinion in favor of legal abortion.