Abortion and Voting Patterns

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After the 1994 elections, the Wirthlin Group took a poll to determine how the abortion issue affected people's votes. Some of their results:

Which of the following statements most closely describes your position on the issue of abortion?

Prohibit all abortions 9%
Prohibit except to save the life of the mother 11%
Prohibit except in cases of rape, incest, or to save the life of the mother 33%
Legal but not after first 3 months 27%
Legal but not after first 6 months 5%
Legal any time 9%
Don't know / refused to answer 6%

Did the abortion issue affect the way you voted?
If Yes, did you vote for candidates who favor abortion or for candidates who oppose abortion?

Abortion had no effect on vote Voted for candidates who oppose abortion Voted for candidates who favor abortion Don't know
All voters 71% 18% 9% 3%
Women voters 69% 17% 11% 3%
Registered Republicans 67% 24% 6% 2%
Republican women 65% 26% 6% 3%

Capsule Commentary

by Jay Johansen

This poll shows two interesting things.

First, pro-abortion advocates often say that polls show that the majority of Americans believe abortion should be legal. Sometimes they will add qualifying words like, "in at least some circumstances". Such statements are completely true, and very misleading. The average American believes abortion should be legal in certain extremely difficult and extremely rare circumstances. According to a study by the (pro-abortion) Guttmacher Institute, these circumstances account for at most 7% of abortions. Only a tiny minority -- 9% according to this poll -- favor the current U.S. laws, which make abortion legal at any time and for any reason. While the majority of Americans would not quite support the position of Right to Life, they are nowhere near the position of the National Abortion Rights Action League or the United States Supreme Court.

But more to the point of this particular survey, How do people vote?

After the 1994 elections, when pro-life candidates swept into office, the media ran story after story about how this or that candidate had won "despite his opposition to abortion rights". As I write this, the 1996 election season is getting under way, and again we are hearing news stories about how the Republicans' pro-life plank is hurting the party. I am sure we will soon be seeing interviews with pro-abortion Republican women saying how difficult it is for them to stay with the GOP if it continues this position.

Are these analyses valid? Not according to this survey.

Most Americans do not vote for or against a candidate on the basis of his or her position on abortion. Hardly a surprise. It is unlikely that "most Americans" vote on the basis of any one issue. But those who do vote primarily on the abortion issue, vote pro-life by a 2-to-1 margin. Put another way, taking a pro-life stand gains a candidate 18 points and costs him 9, for a net gain of 9 points. Many many elections are won or lost by less than 9 points. Clearly, for the totally pragmatic politician who is only interested in winning, pro-life is the way to go.

Women do not vote significantly different from men according to this poll. (The small differences could well be due to the random errors you always get in polling.) This is not a "men versus women" issue. That idea is pure propaganda from the pro-abortion side. They are trying to convince women to be pro-abortion, not because they are convinced that abortion is good or morally neutral, but simply because of the old bandwagon argument: "all women are for it".

Among Republicans, both men and women are even more pro-life. If the Republican party abandoned its pro-life plank, it appears from this survey that it would cost them far more than it would gain them.

One other side observation: From the first question quoted above, it is clear that the vast majority of Americans oppose current law. So why, in a democracy, do such laws continue? There are many reasons, but this survey points out one. While most Americans oppose abortion, it is not often an important factor in their votes. Either they do not think the issue is important, or they do not know where candidates stand on the issue. Those of us who are active in the pro-life movement have often said that if everyone who is pro-life would just vote pro-life, abortion would be over. Perhaps we should spend less time trying to convince the pro-aborts to change their minds, and more time trying to convince the people who are already pro-life to do something about it.

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Posted 16 Sep 2000.

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