Blog Post

Accurate Polls Find that Majority of Americans Oppose Roe v Wade

Commentary by Susan Brinkmann, OCDS

Ever since the nomination of pro-life Judge Brett Kavanaugh to the U.S. Supreme Court, the media has been fear-mongering about how another conservative justice on the bench will lead to the overturning of Roe v. Wade, a case they claim the majority of Americans support – but is this really true?

Thanks to the research of Catholic League president, Bill Donohue, who has a doctorate in sociology, headlines such as those appearing in The New York Times that claim a large majority of Americans in support of Roe v. Wade are based on poorly constructed polls.

“As a social scientist who has analyzed and written about polling data for many years, I am always taken aback when I encounter dishonest surveys,” Donohue writes in this July 13 op-ed.

“The latest example of this is a survey done by Gallup on the subject of abortion; it follows a pattern established by the Pew Research Center on this subject. . . . Pew and Gallup dropped their standards in issuing these surveys. How? By taking a simple-minded approach to a complex issue.”

He goes on to explain that the survey used by these pollsters offered only two choices on an issue that Americans have very mixed feelings about, something these prestigious organizations are very well aware of. In fact, they have done surveys in the past that were far more accurate in addressing just how conflicted the public is about this subject. But this time, they constructed a poll that made it impossible to reveal very important nuances.

For example, he Gallup poll that was released July 12 asked respondents, “Would you like to see the Supreme Court overturn its 1973 Roe v. Wade decision concerning abortion, or not?” It found that 64% believe the ruling should stand and 28% want it overturned, Donohue reports.

However, these results are the opposite of those found on a June 11 poll from the same organization!

“That poll found that 53% of Americans said abortion should be legal in only a few circumstances (35%) or in no circumstances (18%). This means that a majority of Americans reject abortion-on-demand, which is what Roe v. Wade rendered!” Donohue continues.

By collapsing the survey in the latest poll to a mere “yes” or “no” answer, none of these very important caveats were taken into consideration. Those 35 percent who feel abortion should be legal in only a few circumstances were forced to answer “no” to overturning Roe only because they were given no other choice.

The bottom line is that “Most Americans do not think that abortion should be legal for any reason whatsoever, or for any time during pregnancy. Yet that is what Roe allows,” Donohue points out.

Even more misleading is how Pew stated that most Catholics think Roe should stand. But a more sophisticated survey shows the exact opposite.

"In 2015, I commissioned a scientific survey of 1,000 Catholics; it was conducted by The Polling Company. I had a hand in crafting the questions (my doctorate is in sociology), all of which were designed to get at issues that the big survey houses refuse to query,” Donohue explains.

The survey found that 50% of Catholics identify as pro-life, and 38% as pro-choice; but when the data was disaggregated, it revealed much more about how Catholics feel about abortion, he said.

“For example, 17% of all Catholics said abortion should be prohibited in all circumstances; 17% said it should be legal only to save the life of the mother; and 27% said abortion should be legal only in cases of rape, incest or to save the life of the mother. That’s 61% who are mostly pro-life,” Donohue found.

Even among those Catholics who identify as pro-choice, only five percent said abortion should be allowed for any reason, at any time. Among those who are pro-choice, only 5% said that abortion should be allowed for any reason and at any time. Seventeen percent said abortion should be legal for any reason – but not after the first trimester. Another four percent said any reason for abortion was okay – but there should be no abortion permitted after the first six months.

“Another way of looking at it is to consider how Catholics feel about the current law. Under Roe, abortion is effectively allowed for any reason and at any time. This makes us unique: No nation in the world has more liberalized abortion laws than the United States, including the Scandinavian countries. Now think about it: If only 5% agree with the current law, that means 95% of Catholics reject what Roe permits.”

Donohue concluded by chiding Pew and Gallup for dropping their standards low enough to produce distorted results.

“This is too serious an issue for polling houses not to dig deep, uncovering the qualified responses that most Americans have regarding abortion.”

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