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Time: Anti-Abortion Poll Misunderstood

This is not an editorial but a news article, from the former news magazeine Time:

Understanding America’s Shift on Abortion

By Nancy Gibbs

The abortion debate is a shape shifter, its contours twisted by politics, culture, timing and the very language pollsters use when they ask people how they feel. So when the folks at Gallup announced that for the first time more Americans are pro-life than pro-choice, there are all kinds of ways to misunderstand what that means.

First and foremost are the labels, which cloud the issue by oversimplifying it – that’s why the advocates picked them. Most people are neither pro-choice nor pro-life, but both; we cherish life, we value choice, and we trade them off with great reluctance. Good luck explaining that to someone politely requesting a binary answer over the phone.

But if we place any stock at all in those labels, something dramatic has happened. In 1995, when Gallup started asking the question, the split was 56-33 in favor of abortion rights. Now the lines have crossed, and 51% call themselves pro-life while only 42% say pro-choice. It’s a shift that stretches past personal convictions and into legal constraints. For 35 years, a majority of Americans have wanted abortion to be, essentially, legal with limits. But the movement towards greater restraint is clear. In the mid 90s, when pro-choice forces were especially dominant, only 12% believed abortion was always wrong: that number has nearly doubled. At either extreme, slightly more people now believe abortion should be illegal under all circumstances (23%) than legal under all circumstances (22%).

So what’s changed? Gallup attributes the new numbers to Republicans purifying their views: 70% now call themselves pro-life, up 10 points in a year. But that’s to be expected; when fewer people call themselves Republican, the party condenses into a pool of true believers. It’s the people in the middle who are constantly weighing which restrictions are reasonable. A new Pew poll finds that while a majority of independents said abortion should be legal in most cases as recently as October, just 44% do so now. This may inspire some introspection on the part of political operatives in both parties who attribute the Republicans’ present frailty to its orthodoxy on social issues. The GOP may have fielded some hapless messengers, but their message, on abortion at least, may be closer to the mainstream than Democrats care to acknowledge.

I think the numbers, inadequate and simplified though they may be, reflect deeper changes – some generational, some legal, some technological. People under 30 are more opposed to abortion than those older, perhaps because their first baby pictures were often taken in utero. I also wonder if younger women are now sure enough of their sexual autonomy and their choices generally, that they don’t view limits on abortion as attacks on their freedom overall. The calculation of rights subtly shifts, and the fetus, as it develops, asserts its claim on the conscience.

Of course anti-abortion activists have worked hard to make the issue more intimate

As, most obviously, has the political context. Abortion has forever been blown by electoral trade winds; when the right was in charge, people feared the return of coat hangers in back alleys. Now that the left leads, they fear abortion on demand. The very meaning of the labels adjusts; calling yourself pro-choice at a time when a liberal Democratic President and allies in Congress are lifting abortion restraints may imply no qualms at all, and that’s not where most people are.

The President appeared to understand this when he spoke at Notre Dame’s commencement, addressing the possibility of common ground and need for "open hearts, open minds, fair-minded words." …

You can tell Obama isn’t interested in culture war. He’s left gay marriage to the states, dropped family planning money from the stimulus bill, refused to fund needle exchange and says he wants to "tamp down some of the anger" around the abortion debate. He is inviting all sides into the White House to discuss ways to reduce the number of abortions by reducing unintended pregnancies.

My theory? People always apply the brakes to whichever side has the momentum. The stakes are too high, the pain too private, whatever decision a woman makes, to see the issue treated as an ideological toy or fundraising tool. Obama got in trouble in his talk last August with Rick Warren for saying that the question of when life begins was "above my pay grade." But just because he was glib doesn’t mean he was wrong.

Would we have seen such an article explaining how misleading the poll numbers are if the majority had been pro-abortion?

Of course not.

Polls are only ‘explained’ when they don’t turn out the way they should.

This article was posted by Steve on Monday, May 18th, 2009. Comments are currently closed.

11 Responses to “Time: Anti-Abortion Poll Misunderstood”

  1. Reality Bytes says:

    Reminds me of my “New” Math teacher who always had the first answer even if it was wrong.

  2. proreason says:

    “You can tell Obama isn’t interested in culture war.”

    Well then what is it that he’s doing?

    Apparently it’s only culture war if the bad guys do it. When the good guys do it, it’s called “hope and change”.

    And notice how the the “reporter” calls the unborn child a “baby…in utero” when she is trying to win converts, but “the fetus” when she is advocating for abortion.

    100% propaganda.

    • curvyred says:

      Based on his perfomance at ND – I would say he certainly appears to be.

      Why couldn’t he just leave his rhetoric behind for one day and allow the graduates to shine for their day?

      http://news.yahoo.com/s/politico/20090517/pl_politico/22611

      “I do not suggest that the debate surrounding abortion can or should go away,” Obama said in a commencement address he delivered at the Catholic university, after receiving an honorary degree. “Because no matter how much we may want to fudge it — indeed, while we know that the views of most Americans on the subject are complex and even contradictory — the fact is that at some level, the views of the two camps are irreconcilable.”

    • philipspace says:

      I liked how the papers today proclaimed his search for “common ground” on the abortion issue at ND.
      I think that’s Obama-speak for “just give up your futile arguments and admit I’m right already”.

    • canary says:

      Yep, he’s all about a populist cultures. And minorities will be the major populists according to Obama. And just wait til the illegals and muslims get amnesty. Head chopping will be a culture thing, and not a crime.

  3. Odie44 says:

    “So what’s changed? Gallup attributes the new numbers to Republicans purifying their views: 70% now call themselves pro-life, up 10 points in a year. But that’s to be expected; when fewer people call themselves Republican, the party condenses into a pool of true believers.

    Statistics for dummies… If this was true, than the “pro choice” raw number would increase while the % would either stay flat or go up…

    If these idiots were right, then only 1 Rep could remain in the country and the “against abortion” % would be 99.99999.

    I suggest a lesson in mean, median and mode for the authors, while ramping up to computations and permutations…

    • caligirl9 says:

      Remember, Odie, most “journalists” go into the field because they are math stupid.

      Like I am. But I had to have an elementary statistics class for my degree. This writer knows enough to bamboozle people who have little understanding of statistics.

      And we know how easy it is to get statistics to say what YOU want them to …

  4. Right of the People says:

    The pollsters obviously misunderstood their instructions when they took the poll. They actually asked people who might be against abortion and further compounded the mistake by polling a wide variety of people instead of the “focus group” they should have. If you want your poll to look the way you want it, the correct folks must be polled! If you’re against guns, make sure everyone you ask your questions too work for Handgun Control Inc., if you are for guns, go to a range and ask the people shooting what they think.

    What in the heck was Gallup thinking? Heads will roll when the One finds out. They will rue the day they crossed the Obamanation!

  5. “…not an editorial but a news article…?”

    Odd. I thought editorials were the essence of Time Magazine.

  6. pdsand says:

    “I also wonder if younger women are now sure enough of their sexual autonomy and their choices generally, that they don’t view limits on abortion as attacks on their freedom overall. The calculation of rights subtly shifts, and the fetus, as it develops, asserts its claim on the conscience.”

    I see, so people now oppose abortion, because the liberals have been so successful in the culture wars?

  7. canary says:

    What I noticed in Obama’s Notre Dam speech on abortion, is irrelevant comment he made referring to abortion, about finding a cure for diabetis in children implying stem cell research could lead to this cure. So, abortion is more than his comment of if his girls got pregnant he would not want them to be punished with a baby, his chapter ‘Faith” making the subject a religious debate, and not of science makes. The end of the chapter, his comment he has no idea what happens after death, and the only religious belief he is sure he believes is the Golden Rule. Well, women who go to aboriton clinic, are not even told of the procedure on a scientific. And other than the exceptions such as medical, rape, etc. are out the door thanks to Obama. And possibly the stem cells of full term babys being aborted are better than the stem cells of a less developed baby.
    I don’t judge people on the subject, and it’s ashame Obama can’t find some religion or belief to understand how simple redemption and forgiveness can be found. Women beat themselves over having an abortion, and can’t accept the simplicity of being forgiven. And hopefully someday Obama will see as the very woman who fought Roe against Wade reversed her beliefs during Clinton’s days, and was arrested at Notre Dam during Obama’s speech. We need more power back to the states. Obama demeans what he calls the bible belt, Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, as if this is a religious issue. Strange he wrote that the “one Nation under God” did not offend him in school. To me it was the same as saying he didn’t believe in God, and felt other people who don’t believe shouldn’t be offended either. He may never commit himself to a belief.
    Obama’s comment at Notre Dam to make adoption easier is ludicrous.


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