Jim Talent
Senator from Missouri
Norm Coleman
Senator from Minnesota

The Pro-Choice Majority in the Voting Booth

by Jay Johansen
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You often hear news stories before an election talking about how some conservative candidate is going to have trouble attracting women voters because of his anti-abortion stand. They will interview some Republican women who say that they like the candidate's stand on tax policy and foreign policy and so forth, but they're not sure if they can support him because of his anti-abortion position.

But exactly how much does it really hurt a candidate to be pro-life?

On Election Day of 2002, Fox News commissioned Opinion Dynamics Corporation to conduct polls of voters in ten states, asking what issues were important to them and why they voted the way they did. (The ten states were apparently chosen because they were places where the vote was expected to be close or otherwise particularly interesting.) In two of these states, Missouri and Minnesota, their list of issues included abortion. The poll covered three races: for senator from Missouri, senator from Minnesota, and governor of Minnesota. The two senate races were quite close: 50% to 47% in Minnesota and 50% to 49% in Missouri, with the remaining odd percentage points going to third-party candidates.

This makes these polls particularly useful for looking at the influence of any one issue: After all, if one candidates takes 90% of the vote in a landslide, then does the fact that he took 90% of, say, the used-car-owners vote mean that this candidate was particularly attractive to owners of used cars, or were they simply part of the overall landslide?

The results of this poll:

In the Minnesota senate race, 14% of the voters picked abortion as the single most important issue they looked at when deciding how to vote. This made it the number three issue on voters' minds, after "The economy" (26%) and "Education" (18%), and ahead of "Taxes" (13%), "Social Security" and "Health Care" (8% each), etc. Of those who picked abortion as the most important issue, 17% voted for the pro-choice candidate, Walter Mondale; while 81% voted for the pro-life candidate, Norm Coleman.

In the Minnesota governor race, 14% again said that abortion was the single most important issue. Of these, 9% voted for the major-party pro-choice candidate, Roger Moe; 8% for a third-party pro-choice candidate, Timothy Penny; and 76% for the pro-life candidate, Tim Pawlenty.

In the Missouri senate race, 17% picked abortion as the most important issue, coming in second after "The economy" at 21%, and ahead of "Education" (15%), "Social Security" (14%), etc. Of these voters, 19% voted for the pro-choice candidate, Jean Carnahan, and 80% voted for the pro-life candidate, Jim Talent.

For those of you who prefer a graph, let's take the Missouri senate race, as the pro-life percentage there fell in the middle of the three:

Most important issue:

(Your browswer must support HTML5 and Javascript to display the graph.)

This graph clearly shows that while -- to no one's surprise -- abortion was not the only issue of interest in the campaign, it was clearly up there among the major issues. Number two, in fact.

Breakout of voters who said abortion was most important issue:

(Your browswer must support HTML5 and Javascript to display the graph.)

Clearly, being pro-life didn't hurt any of these candidates. Being pro-life helped every one of them, to the tune of about 200,000 votes.

Indeed, let's play a little "what if" game: Suppose instead of the abortion-issue voters being pro-life by 80 to 20, it had been the other way around: suppose they had been pro-choice by 80 to 20. How would this have affected these elections? In every one of these three electins, the pro-choice candidate would have won. And won big. In real life, the pro-life candidates won with margins ranging from 22,000 to 178,000 votes. If the abortion vote had been 80/20 pro-choice, the pro-choice candidates would have won with margins ranging from 244,000 to 366,000 votes! In the Missouri senate race in particular, the pro-choice candidate would have won with a near-landslide of 59%.

If you think an 80/20 pro-choice margin is extreme, suppose it had just been 50/50. All three pro-choice candidates in these races would have won in that scenario too. Being pro-choice cost all three of these candidates the election.

Other polls have shown that there is no "pro-choice majority" in America. This poll shows that when it comes to voting -- in these two states at least -- there is a huge pro-life majority. It appears that of those who care the most about abortion, enough to actually change their vote based on this issue, the overwhelming majority are pro-life. The idea that being pro-life is a liability for a politician is a myth propagated by pro-abortion activists and their friends in the media. But it has proven to be a very useful myth, because it scares many politicians away from taking action on this issue. They've been convinced that it will cost them at the polls. So much as we'd like to have friends who stand with us as a matter of principle: Hey you people in politics: Being pro-life will gain you votes. Be cynical and opportunistic and vote for Life!


Sources

Crunching the numbers

For those of you who like to see the numbers spelled out in excruciating detail, here's the calculation for the "what if" scenario. In this chart we estimate, based on the Fox News/Opinion Dynamics poll, how many voters chose abortion as the most important issue, and how many of these then voted for the major-party pro-life candidate and how many for the major-party pro-choice candidate (by multiplying the percentages from the poll by the total number of voters). For the what-if columns, we assume the numbers are switched. That is, we caculate the difference between the number of pro-life and pro-choice votes, and then subtract this number from the pro-life candidate's total and add it to the pro-choice candidate's total.

Notes: In this chart, the first two columns include all votes. The remaining columns count only those who voted for one of the two major-party candidates. In the what-if column, this means that we assume that the unmarked ballots and the votes for third-party candidates are unchanged. (In the two senate races, this makes little difference: the third-party vote was small. In the governor's race, where there was a serious third-party challenge, this probably understates the the point we are trying to make: As the third-party candidate was pro-choice, he probably would also have picked up votes if the life/choice ratio were reversed, which would have further hurt the pro-life candidate.)

All numbers are rounded to the nearest thousand. (As it's a little excessive to take a poll of 900 people and try to calculate down to the last two voters exactly how everyone voted.)

Abortion #1 issue Actual totals What if...
Abortion vote was switched
Race Total voters Total Pro-Life voters Pro-Choice voters Pro-Life candidate Pro-Choice candidate Pro-Life candidate Pro-Choice candidate
Missouri senate 1,874,000 319,000 255,000 61,000 934,000 912,000 740,000 1,106,000
Minnesota senate 2,252,000 315,000 255,000 54,000 1,116,000 1,065,000 915,000 1,266,000
Minnesota governor 2,252,000 315,000 239,000 28,000 999,000 821,000 788,000 1,032,000


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Posted 11 Nov 2002.

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