In a recent 40 Days for Life podcast episode, co-host Steve Karlen, 40 Days for Life campaign director, interviewed Dr. Michael New, visiting associate professor at Catholic University in Political Science and Social Research. Dr. New pointed out that it is difficult to gauge where the American public stands on abortion due to various factors, including misleading and unclear polling.
Do Americans want Roe v. Wade overturned?
On the podcast, Karlen asked Dr. New to comment on the surprisingly different answers Americans give when polled about whether they identify as pro-life or pro-choice versus when they’re asked if they want Roe v. Wade to be overturned.
“What is going on here, and what are we to take away from an American public that really can’t seem to make up its mind on the topic of abortion?” asked Karlen.
Dr. New said he believes “the polling on Roe v. Wade is very misleading and very unhelpful in terms of gauging what Americans really think about abortion.” There are three reasons for this, he said:
First, some people don’t even know what Roe v. Wade’s even about. There was a poll done in 2013 by Rasmussen that found that like 15% of Americans thought that Roe v. Wade had to do with segregation. So, people don’t pay close attention to politics. Most people are not activists and political stuff is not, you know, crossing their minds all that often. So, that’s one problem.
Another issue is that many people do not “understand the complete implications of the Roe v. Wade decision,” meaning they are unaware that it “effectively legalized abortion on demand in all 50 states throughout all nine months of pregnancy.”
“That is an opinion shared by relatively few Americans but most of the polls don’t really make that clear, and some of the media coverage around Roe suggests that it only made abortion legal in the first trimester,” New said.
Finally, New said, polling typically does not make it clear to respondents “what happens if Roe v. Wade is overturned.” Many people are under the impression that abortion would suddenly become illegal, and this is not the case. “If Roe v. Wade is overturned, that does not mean that abortion is banned, it just simply means that the decision goes back to the states and individual state legislatures and governors will decide abortion policy in their respective states,” New said.
“So, a lot of these polls… don’t explain that Roe v. Wade is an abortion decision, they don’t explain the full implications of Roe v. Wade, that it legalizes abortion in all 50 states throughout all nine months of pregnancy, and they don’t make clear that if Roe v. Wade is overturned it simply goes back to the states. So, the polling on Roe v. Wade isn’t all that helpful,” New concluded.
Gallup poll numbers give a clearer picture
Dr. New opined that other polls tend to give a better picture of how Americans really feel about abortion.
Gallup, for example, “has been asking people whether they are pro-life or pro-choice for many years,” New said, adding:
In 1995, they did a poll which found that only about 33% of Americans identified as pro-life…. I think the most recent Gallup poll indicates that about 46% of Americans are pro-life, so that’s a 13 percentage point gain in about 25 years. That’s been pretty durable. In fact, some Gallup Polls show even more support for the pro-life position.
New stated that “in 2009, 51% of Americans identified as pro-life… There have been a couple times when we’ve enjoyed a majority. But the important thing is that regardless of what poll you’re looking at, we’ve made quite a lot of progress since the mid-1990s. Again, just 33% of Americans were pro-life in 1995, now just about every Gallup poll shows that we’re over 45%.”
What New believes these numbers mean is “that our educational efforts have been effective, and that we are in fact changing hearts and minds on this issue.”
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