The Corner

Re: Polling Bleg

A few days ago I asked why two sets of fairly similar poll questions consistently yielded divergent results. Polls that ask respondents whether abortion should be legal under “any,” “most,” or “only in a few” circumstances, or “illegal in all circumstances” yielded resulted in more pro-life answers than polls that ask if “abortion should be legal in all cases, legal in most cases, illegal in most cases, or illegal in all cases.” The biggest difference seemed to me to be that a pretty similar option was described in one poll as keeping abortion legal only in a few circumstances, and in the other as being illegal in most cases. Could that really be enough to drive a rather large shift in public opinion?

I received many interesting emails. The leading explanations from readers:

1) “Legal” is more “positive” than “illegal,” and the latter brings in the question of punishment–and, in particular, the specter of throwing abortion-seeking women in jail, which pushes ambivalent voters in a pro-choice direction. (It would be interesting to know how a specific legal regime with light penalties for performing an elective abortion [something I’ve defended in the past] would test.)

2) People think that abortion should be permissible in only a few circumstances, but think those circumstances occur often. So, for example, they may believe that abortion should be legal in cases of rape, incest, threats to the mother’s life, and severe fetal defect–only a few circumstances–but think that these account for most cases of abortion (which is very far from being true). This example would also correspond to the polls that ask people whether abortion should be generally legal, legal in cases of rape, incest, and threats to the mother’s life, or illegal altogether–polls that usually find a small majority for the two pro-life options.

My guess is that explanation number one is the predominant factor. Thanks for all the emails.

Ramesh Ponnuru is a senior editor for National Review, a columnist for Bloomberg Opinion, a visiting fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, and a senior fellow at the National Review Institute.

Most Popular

Culture

White Cats and Black Swans

Making a film of Cats is a bold endeavor — it is a musical with no real plot, based on T. S. Eliot’s idea of child-appropriate poems, and old Tom was a strange cat indeed. Casting Idris Elba as the criminal cat Macavity seems almost inevitable — he has always made a great gangster — but I think there was ... Read More
Politics & Policy

The Other Case against Reparations

Reparations are an ethical disaster. Proceeding from a doctrine of collective guilt, they are the penalty for slavery and Jim Crow, sins of which few living Americans stand accused. An offense against common sense as well as morality, reparations would take from Bubba and give to Barack, never mind if the former ... Read More
Politics & Policy

May I See Your ID?

Identity is big these days, and probably all days: racial identity, ethnic identity, political identity, etc. Tribalism. It seems to be baked into the human cake. Only the consciously, persistently religious, or spiritual, transcend it, I suppose. (“There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor ... Read More
Politics & Policy

The White Ghetto

Editor's Note: In celebration of Kevin D. Williamson’s newest book, The Smallest Minority: Independent Thinking in the Age of Mob Politics, National Review is republishing some of our favorites of his from the past ten years. This article originally appeared in the December 16, 2013, issue of National ... Read More
Health Care

The Puzzling Problem of Vaping

San Francisco -- A 29-story office building at 123 Mission Street illustrates the policy puzzles that fester because of these facts: For centuries, tobacco has been a widely used, legal consumer good that does serious and often lethal harm when used as it is intended to be used. And its harmfulness has been a ... Read More