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Two contradictory polls about abortion

The UT/Texas Trib poll painted a not-so-rosy picture for reproductive choice in Texas.

Texas voters remain split on the permissibility of abortion but favor banning the procedure after 20 weeks of a pregnancy, according to the latest University of Texas/Texas Tribune Poll.

The survey also found a divergence of opinion about public schools: Voters with school-age children give schools much better ratings than all voters as a group.

The divide on abortion — evident in past UT/TT polls — persists. Forty-six percent of Texas voters say it should never be permitted or permitted only in cases involving incest, rape or when the woman’s life is in danger. On the other hand, 49 percent say it should be allowed after the need for an abortion has been clearly established, or that the choice should be completely left to the woman. Within those numbers, 16 percent said abortion should never be allowed, and 36 percent said that a woman should always be able to get an abortion as a matter of personal choice.

Laws restricting abortion should be stricter, according to 38 percent of the respondents, while 26 percent said the laws should be less strict and 21 percent said they should be left as they are now.

“What you see is what you would expect in a relatively red state,” said poll co-director Daron Shaw, a professor of government at the University of Texas at Austin. “It’s a slight pro-life lean. It’s probably pushed a little bit because of the question about late-term abortions.”

The poll split a question about abortions after 20 weeks — an effort to see whether talking in the context of fetal pain changed the responses of Texas voters. It didn’t: 62 percent said they would support “prohibiting abortions after 20 weeks based on the argument that a fetus can feel pain at that point,” and that same percentage said they support “prohibiting abortions after 20 weeks.” Nearly half — 49 percent in the first question and 47 percent in the second — said they would strongly support those prohibitions.

“In terms of substantive policy, most of this is not particularly right-wing,” Shaw said. “Maybe the abortion stuff. These are abortion positions that are actually not strongly opposed — there is a 2-to-1 preference for that.”

I would dispute Daron Shaw’s assertion that the question about laws restricting abortion have a pro-life lean. I mean, by a 47-38 margin, respondents said that the laws did not need to be any more restrictive. For that matter, a 49-46 plurality expressed a preference for abortion to be available as needed. (I have no idea what “once a clear need has been established” means; it’s not a phrasing option I’ve ever seen before. I see nothing wrong with interpreting it to mean something like “once a woman has consulted her doctor” or something similarly mush-mouthed.) For a “red state” like Texas, that’s not too shabby.

It’s the question about banning abortions at 20 weeks that stands out. You would think that if 47% of respondents said abortion laws should be either left as is or made less strict there wouldn’t be room for 62% of respondents to support this extreme new restriction. That brings us to our other poll, from Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research, and it also offers a lesson in why question wording matters.

Major findings include:

  • Nearly three quarters of voters (74 percent) in the state say personal, private medical decisions about whether to have an abortion should be made by a woman, her family, and her doctor, not by politicians; just 19 percent of voters think government has a right and an obligation to pass restrictions on abortion. Support for a woman’s ability to make decisions on abortion for herself is both broad and deep, including among Independents (76 percent) and Republicans (61 percent).
  • Fifty-two percent of Texas voters think that abortion should be legal in all or most cases, compared to 39 percent who say it should be illegal in all or most cases. Even among those who think abortion should be illegal, a majority (51 percent) believe that personal, private medical decisions about whether to have an abortion should be made by a woman, her family, and her doctor, not by politicians.
  • Eight in ten voters agree that the special session should be focused on issues like “education, jobs, and economy instead of bringing up social issues like abortion”; 71 percent think that the Governor and the legislature should spend less time passing laws restricting abortion. Again, both Independent and Republican voters share this view.
  • Overall, a majority (51 percent) oppose the current legislation in the legislature, which “would place new restrictions and regulation on abortion providers that would likely result in the closure of all but five abortion clinics in the state of Texas, all of which are located along the I-35 corridor and would ban most abortions at 20 weeks of pregnancy.”
  • While voters are split on whether or not women’s access to healthcare is being threatened in the state (43 percent each threatened and not threatened), 57 percent do not trust the Governor or the legislature to make decisions about women’s healthcare.
  • In sum, this legislation is not a reflection of any voter sentiment that this is an important issue for the Governor and legislature to take up or any desire for further restrictions on abortion. Indeed, a majority opposes this legislation, being devised by politicians they do not particularly trust on women’s health issues.

You can see GQRR’s questions and the percentages here. The penultimate question above is asking about the same legislation as the UT/TT poll, but it gets majority disapproval. The GQRR question highlights the likely practical effect of the legislation, while the UT/TT question echoes the (medically highly dubious) claim about fetal pain. One mirrors the Democratic position, the other the Republican position. Question wording matters, y’all. By the way, the GQRR sample seems to be perfectly plausible – 50% GOP, 37% Dem; 46% conservative, 33% moderate, 15% liberal. All things considered, given the percentages on the first two UT/TT poll questions, it’s hard to conclude that the people are crying out for the abortion legislation currently under consideration in the House.

That of course is a matter to be settled on the playing field. Ultimately, Dems are just going to have to win more elections. I hope that the huge crowd that turned out to testify against the House bill can serve as a catalyst for action in 2014 and beyond, and I hope that the national vote on a 20-week ban that took place at about the same time galvanizes people, too. The pro-choice position is certainly capable of persuading people. We need for that to translate into results.

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6 Comments

  1. Lee Henderson says:

    The poll is GQRR/Chesapeake – conducted by a bipartisan team of pollsters.

  2. Stan says:

    @Lee – Greenberg Quinlan Rosner is “Bipartisan”
    Now that’s funny!
    Stanley Bernard “Stan” Greenberg (born May 10, 1945) is a leading Democratic pollster and political strategist who has advised the campaigns of Bill Clinton, Al Gore, and John Kerry
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stan_Greenberg

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