In the aftermath of President Trump’s nomination of Brett Kavanaugh to the U.S. Supreme Court, several recent polls have provided new insight into public opinion on abortion. Unfortunately, nearly all of these polls — including those conducted by NBC News/SurveyMonkey, Kaiser Family Foundation, Quinnipiac, the Wall Street Journal/NBCNews, and Axios/Survey Monkey — have analyzed public support for the Roe v. Wade decision rather than surveying Americans on their view of abortion itself.
As I have pointed out previously, public support for Roe v. Wade is a very poor metric for measuring support for legal abortion. Many Americans do not know that Roe made it remarkably difficult for states to place limits on late-term abortions, and many are unaware that reversing Roe would return abortion policy to the states.
Last week, however, Hill.TV and HarrisX polling company released the results of a new poll surveying 1,000 registered voters between August 31 and September 1. Unlike most of the other recent polls, this one asked respondents about circumstances in which abortion should be legal, and as a result it provides useful information about public attitudes toward abortion among registered voters.
For instance, the poll found that a majority of registered voters (55 percent) think abortion should be either illegal or only legal in limited cases such as rape, incest, or to save the life of the mother. Twenty-seven percent, meanwhile, thought abortion should be legal until the third trimester, and 18 percent thought it should be legal in all circumstances.
The consistency of the polling results among various demographic groups was particularly interesting. For instance, the survey found that women were more likely than men to support legal abortion, but the difference was marginal. More than 50 percent of every age demographic felt that abortion should be either illegal or legal only in limited cases such as rape, incest, or to save the life of the mother. This is a change from many polls taken in the 1970s and 1980s, which found large generation gaps in beliefs about life issues.
The results indicated that individuals with more formal education and high income levels were more likely to support legal abortion than other demographic groups. Still, even among these groups — 49 percent of those with an annual income of more than $75,000, and 43 percent of those with at least four years of higher education, thought abortion should either be illegal or legal only in limited circumstances.
Hill.TV deserves plaudits for conducting a useful survey on life issues, but the outlet’s coverage of the results was disappointing. The Hill ran two stories about the poll, one of which had a headline stating that Republicans are “divided over abortion.” The poll indicates, however, that a supermajority of Republicans, 71 percent, think abortion should be either illegal or legal only in limited circumstances. Since 44 percent of Democrats also espouse those views, it is fair to say that Democrats are actually more divided over the abortion issue than are Republicans.
The other story in The Hill emphasized that a high percentage of Americans support “limited abortion rights.” This story failed to mention that a high percentage of registered voters supports some restrictions on abortion and that the public wants more strict abortion restrictions than current U.S. jurisprudence allows. Neither story contained commentary from a either a pro-life group or a pro-life spokesperson.
Despite the negative spin, these polling results are very useful to the pro-life movement, especially since many recent polls give the incorrect impression that majorities of Americans support expansive abortion rights. Pro-lifers would do well to publicize this new Hill.TV/HarrisX poll, which shows that most Americans favor some protections for the unborn and that pro-life policies poll well across a range of age groups.