Sunday, July 21, 2013

Communication Breakdown.

I think polls are fascinating. You know how some people can lose hours going from video to video on Youtube? Or article to article on Wikipedia? For me, it's hopping from poll to poll on Gallup, or, in this case, the Pew Research Center.

While meandering their site today, I came across this little infographic:

Pro-lifers, including myself, have often used data like this Gallup poll to assert that about half of America is pro-life. But what does that mean?

When I think of a "pro-life" person, I think of someone who believes abortion is wrong and thinks abortion should (generally) be illegal. I suspect most pro-life activists think of this definition. But if that's how we define "pro-life" then no, half of America is not pro-life. The Gallup poll says only 31% of Americans think abortion should be illegal in the first trimester. The above Pew Research infographic says only 29% of Americans think Roe v. Wade should be overturned (and that includes some people who don't think abortion is morally wrong anyway). I expect the 18% of respondents who believe abortion is morally wrong but Roe v. Wade should not be overturned are people who consider themselves "personally pro-life," which is quite different from our working definition of "pro-life."

You may have noticed the four quadrants of the infographic don't add up to 100%. That's because (as you may have also noticed) the Pew Research Center found 11% of  people answered "don't know." To my mind, these are the most interesting respondents. I imagine these people haven't really developed a stance because they haven't really looked into the abortion debate; these people may be more open to changing (or developing) their position. I think the pro-life movement would be best served by reaching out to these undecided people. But even if we converted all of them, as it stands right now that would still only mean 36%-40% of people who think Roe v. Wade should be overturned. 

It's not nothing, but it's not near the support polls sometimes suggest.


  1. The polling is difficult to interpret. Things which are slightly different but closely related poll very very differently. I'm skeptical that you can learn much from this poll. There are two questions that I think are so problematic as to be useless : 'are you prolife or prochoice' and 'do you want to overturn RvW?' The first is ambiguous and prolife overperforms. The second is unambiguous but requires knowledge about RvW. which most people lack A surprising number of people don't know it's about abortion and many (maybe most) incorrectly believe that overturning it would ban abortion.

  2. "About six-in-ten Americans (62%) know that Roe v. Wade dealt with the issue of abortion. Much smaller percentages incorrectly associate the decision with school desegregation (7%), the death penalty (5%) or environmental protection (5%); 20% do not know."

    1. In this case, the polling question explained in the question what Roe v. Wade is about, that is, that Roe v. Wade "established a woman's constitutional right to an abortion." So I don't think you can say, at least for this poll, that the people answering it thought RvW was about the death penalty or any of those other topics.