Analysis

Pro-abortion group changed its messaging based on a flawed survey, says expert

NARAL, abortion group

A recent poll on abortion, covered by various news outlets including VICE News, portrays American attitudes toward pro-life issues in a misleading manner, according to Dr. Michael New, an Associate Scholar at the Charlotte Lozier Institute.

The “listening survey” was conducted by the group Avalanche Strategy. Information was collected from 546 Americans between May 30 – June 3, 2019. According to a previous Live Action News report, the results prompted NARAL Pro-Choice America, the largest pro-abortion lobby group in the U.S., to alter its messaging, moving away from the “Abortion is Health Care” talking point to one of “reproductive freedom.”

Image: Avalanche Strategy abortion survey

Live Action News contributor Nancy Flanders reviewed the VICE News feature on the survey, writing:

“[…] Avalanche’s researchers pinpointed a specific subset of those supporters whom they call the ‘freedom first’ segment, a group that is personally opposed to abortion, but believes in other people’s right to access it free from government intervention,” reported VICE News. “That group made up 29 percent of respondents.”

According to Flanders, “Avalanche Strategy determined that ’72 percent of American voters support the right to the procedure.’ (This statistic is not accurate, by the way.)”

Dr. New responded to the survey, detailing the flaws to Live Action News:

The main methodological flaw with the poll is that it only gives respondents three options to describe their attitudes toward abortion. Respondents have a choice of stating that they 1) support legal abortion 2) are uncomfortable with legal abortion, but disapprove of government intervention in abortion decisions, or 3) think abortion should be illegal.

However, a substantial body of public opinion research shows that attitudes toward abortion are often influenced by the gestational age of the unborn child and the reasons that a woman has for seeking an abortion. For instance, a substantial body of polling data from Gallup show that majorities of Americans oppose both second-trimester abortions and third-trimester abortions. Furthermore, the General Social Survey consistently shows that majorities oppose legal abortion in several common circumstances. These include the woman being low income, the woman being unmarried and not wanting to marry the man or the woman being married and not wanting more children. Furthermore, there is also a body of public opinion research which shows that majorities of Americans support incremental pro-life laws like parental involvement laws, waiting periods, and limits on taxpayer funding for elective abortions.

Overall, data from Gallup shows a significant increase in the percentage of Americans who identify as “pro-life” since the mid-1990s. Additionally, data from the General Social Survey show that young adults, are actually more likely than older age-cohorts, to oppose legal abortion in a range of circumstances. Contrary to this misleading poll released by Avalanche, a good body of survey data shows that Americans support legal protections for the unborn.

READ: New poll reveals 75 percent of Americans want abortion restrictions

On its website, Avalanche Strategy bills itself as an organizations that “offers unprecedented insight into the values, attitudes and emotions of your audiences.” The group’s CEO, Michiah Prull, admits to having been previously involved in the Obama political campaign where he considered himself a political organizer. Prull openly admits to working to advance Progressive ideas, telling the host of The Great Battlefield podcast, “Emotional residence dictates political power and that can be for the sake of people we agree with or not. And that’s really what’s at the root of our deepest motivation with this work is that how do we more systematically do that as Progressives, therefore win, and therefore move our country in a different direction.”

“So, what we do is we help — Democrats primarily, Progressives — create more emotionally resonant messaging. The way we do this is by helping them understand their communities more deeply, particularly in terms of values and emotions so that they can then craft narratives that really speak to people and really resonate with them,” Prull stated.

Image: Michiah Prull of Avalanche Strategy on abortion to NARAL (Image: Twitter)

Michiah Prull of Avalanche Strategy on abortion to NARAL (Image: Twitter)

In the October 2018 interview Prull described another survey his group conducted with “a large C4 entity who focuses on reproductive rights.” (Could this be NARAL?)

And they really wanted us to look at a segment of Conservatives, soft Conservatives, suburban women, who they have had polling going back years to show that they support of some form of access to abortion. But they’ve never been able to really reach these people. And so what we did starting with the technology is we created an open-ended survey that prompts people with very specific language to tell us stories about why they feel the way they do on this issue.

And so we had 1,500 soft Conservative women telling us through personal anecdote how they feel about the issue of access to abortion. We then take those responses and we use a combination of human expert oversight and artificial intelligence to look at the very specific language and wording that people are using… showing how people are thinking about this on that instinctive level. And what we found in that case was very interesting – which was that this entity had expected that because these people were aligned with them on access to abortion they would be feeling angry about this issue – maybe disgusted about this issue and that had been the messaging that they had been trying.

What we found is that overwhelmingly this constituency is sad about this issue. And that’s both intuitive as soon as you hear it, but if you think about the consequences of yelling angry things at sad people, you understand the importance of this type of insight. To be able to really understand that this is a group of people that are deeply conflicted on a very complex issue and their primary emotion in regards to this is actually a sense of sadness. And a much more powerful messaging approach is going to be able to meet them where they’re at – to recognize the conflict- to move with them towards what they actually agree, which is that individual choice is the only ethical option in such conflict.

Prull added that the unnamed “C4” organization was challenged by these results. “Because you’re essentially being told that large segments have a different world-view than you. … There’s now a message testing in the field based on this. The preliminary results are that it’s performing well with Independents and that it is actually showing minimal blowback with Democrats.”

Why were “soft” Conservative women sad about abortion? Prull says: “They’re sad because they think a fetus is a human life.”

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