The Corner

Media Misinterprets Recent Abortion Polling

Since the election, a number of mainstream media outlets have noted that Donald Trump trailed Hillary Clinton in the final popular-vote tally, and they have also tried to make the case that his policy positions are unpopular with the American people. For instance, Slate article from earlier this week argued that tax cuts for high income earners are broadly unpopular across a wide range of political and demographic groups. Additionally, a Politico story from the week before cited polling data purportedly showing that Trump’s positions on immigration and abortion are similarly unpopular with the general public.

The reporting on abortion has been especially misleading. The Politico piece cites a Quinnipiac survey, which found that two-thirds of Americans support the Roe. v. Wade decision. But Roe v. Wade tends to poll well largely because many Americans believe that a reversal of the ruling would ban abortion across the country. In reality, a reversal of Roe would return abortion policy to the states. The Quinnipiac poll in question also indicates that 64 percent of Americans think abortion should be a legal option in “all” or “most” cases; that figure is consistent with past Quinnipiac surveys.

But it is important to note that the results of abortion surveys often vary quite a bit depending on the research organization conducting the survey, and people can be sensitive to the specific question wording that is used. In contrast to the Quinnipiac numbers, Gallup surveys consistently indicate that well over 50 percent of Americans think abortion should either be “legal in a few circumstances” or “illegal in all circumstances.”

Overall, there is little evidence that attitudes toward abortion changed significantly in 2016. Last week, Rasmussen released a poll finding that 42 percent of Americans identify as “pro-life” while 52 percent identify as “pro-choice.” Rasmussen has conducted 21 surveys on abortion since 2010, and these latest results are almost identical to these surveys’ polling average over the past six years. Furthermore, according to Rasmussen, pro-life self-identification is now at its highest point since 44 percent identified as “pro-life” in the summer of 2014.

Since the election, Trump has publicly repeated his pledge of nominating pro-life judges. This has heartened many pro-lifers, especially since, unlike past Republican presidential nominees, Trump does not have a track record of supporting pro-life legislation or other pro-life initiatives. Trump and his transition team should uphold their other campaign promises on sanctity-of-life issues — and not be misled by the media’s spinning of limited polling data.

Michael J. New is a research associate at the Busch School of Business at The Catholic University of America and is an associate scholar at the Charlotte Lozier Institute. Follow him on Twitter @Michael_J_New


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