Last Thursday, Rasmussen released a poll showing that 44 percent of likely U.S. voters support banning abortions after 20 weeks of gestation. Only 41 percent were opposed to such a ban. During the debate in Texas over HB2, many mainstream-media outlets tried to spin such laws as unpopular and extreme. However, there is a growing body of survey data indicating that these measures are fairly popular. This is the second poll in less than a month that finds 20-week abortion bans enjoy plurality support. A June poll commissioned by National Journal finds that Americans favor such a ban by a 48–44 percent margin.
The Rasmussen poll was particularly interesting because it asked respondents to identify themselves as either “pro-choice” or “pro-life” and then asked questions about various pro-life legislative measures. This is somewhat uncommon in survey research. Many polls ask about either specific legislative proposals or general attitudes toward abortion. Few surveys ask respondents both kinds of questions. In the Rasmussen survey, respondents were more likely to say they were “pro-choice” rather than “pro-life” by a 50–43 margin. However, pluralities supported both the 20-week ban and requiring abortion providers to have admitting privileges at a local hospital.
The demographic breakdown of the results was also informative. Like many other surveys, the Rasmussen poll found that older Americans were more likely to identify themselves as “pro-life” than younger Americans. However, support for 20-week abortion bans was nearly identical across all age groups. Furthermore, women were more likely than men to support such a ban. Those with fewer years of formal education were more likely than others to describe themselves as “pro-life,” but this demographic was actually less likely than other demographics to support a 20-week abortion ban and other types of incremental pro-life laws.
Pro-lifers are enjoying a good year in 2013. According to Guttmacher, this is already the second most productive year on record in terms of the number of pro-life bills enacted. As I have pointed out, pro-lifers have benefitted from Republican legislative gains in southern states. However, we have also benefitted from the long-term work that has gone into building durable pro-life organizations at both the national and local level. This has been more difficult than many realize. One interesting result from the Rasmussen survey is that only 19 percent of individuals making more than $200,000 a year describe themselves as “pro-life.” As such, many pro-life organizations rely on small donations from a large number of individuals. Fundraising in such a manner is often difficult, costly, and time consuming. It is heartening, therefore, to see the long-term efforts of pro-lifers bearing fruit at the state level.
— Michael J. New is an assistant professor of political science at The University of Michigan– Dearborn, a fellow at the Witherspoon Institute, and an adjunct scholar at the Charlotte Lozier Institute. Follow him on Twitter @Michael_J_New