PRINCETON, NJ -- When asked how they think most Americans feel about the abortion issue, 51% of U.S. adults say the public is mostly "pro-choice," while 35% say "pro-life." This general perception that the pro-choice viewpoint prevails contrasts with the nearly even division of Americans' actual views. The same poll finds that 48% of Americans call themselves pro-life and 45% pro-choice....
I can't say I'm surprised. I always get a kick out of my left-wing friends who insist the abortion issue is killing Republicans. In fact, the Gallup poll, which shows Americans pretty much evenly split on abortion, only hints at why the issue is not a good one for Democrats contrary to popular perception and media spin. Historically pro-life voters vote on the issue much more frequently than do pro-choice voters. So even if the polling is 50-50, if one side is voting on the issue and the other isn't, it is a problem for politicians who are on the wrong side.
I often tell the story of when I ran for the House in 2000 in a district on the northwest side of Indianapolis. When you go door-to-door, voters will often ask you your view on a major issue that is key to how they'll vote. After you tell them your position, they will tell you theirs. My position on abortion was the most frequently asked question during the primary round. Every last Republican voter who asked me about the issue during the primary round was pro life. After winning the primary, I started hitting the doors of voters who had no primary history or only a limited Democratic primary history in an effort to hit the more independent voters. I expected the abortion issue would be much more mixed. I was wrong. Again, the most frequent question was abortion. Again, every voter who asked me about that issue in the general election round turned out to be pro life. I literally knocked on thousands of doors that election season and not a single pro choice person raised the abortion issue. This was in an urban area, with then about a 40% minority population. That is not surprising as African-Americans and Latinos often poll as being more pro-life than white Americans. According to Gallup, Nonwhites identify as being majority pro-life by 51-37, while whites are majority pro-choice 48-46.
While pro-choicers claim that the abortion issue hurts Republicans with women the fact is there is little difference between men and women when it comes to the abortion issue. According to Gallup 46% of women identify as being pro-life as opposed to 50% of men. Not exactly a huge margin, though notably a slight reversal of earlier polling that showed women being more supportive of abortion.
Where Republicans lose the issue is when they allow Democrats to define the abortion issue as being about the rare exceptions, i.e. rape and incest. Republicans lose also when they support legislative proposals that sound like very intrusive medical procedures. Supporting something called "vaginal probes" is not going to go over well with the public. But the issue of abortion is in general clearly a loser for the Democratic Party and has been since Roe v. Wade.
Now we have a state senator from Texas, Wendy Davis, who wants to fight the battle to preserve abortion after 5 months. One of the liberal commentators on the Fox News Sunday morning show, NPR's Mara Liasson said that on immigration, same sex marriage and other social issues, Republicans are on the wrong side, but when it comes to second trimester abortion, Republicans are on solid footing.
Indeed they are. Just as Republicans are foolish to let the abortion issue be defined by focusing the debate on the rape and incest exceptions (which amount to about 1% of the abortions), the Democrats are likewise foolish if they fall into the trap of allowing the abortion issue be about protecting second term abortions (which account for about 9% of the total), which are so brutal and gruesome that I will not describe them here.
Let's look at the polling on the issue that Wendy Davis was defending, the right to abortion more than 5 months into pregnancy. Ironically the poll by United Technologies/National Journal came out right before the Wendy Davis filibuster in response to a bill passed by the United States House.
Undoubtedly the question of the United Technologies, which included the provision about "rape and incest that are reported to the authorities," significantly knocked down the support for the second trimester ban. If you look at a December 2012 Gallup Poll which asked the second trimester ban question without that provision, 64% supported the ban while 27% opposed it. When Gallup first asked the question in 1996, 65% supported the ban while 26% opposed it.
Thus, an overwhelming majority of Americans have strongly opposed second trimester abortion for at least 17 years. If the Democrats want to make future elections a mandate on keeping second and third trimester abortions legal, I'm sure the Republicans would welcome that debate.