I have read and received calls and emails about the recent "stunning" Gallup poll where, purportedly, the majority of Americans, for the first time in years, identifies as "Anti-Choice" vs "Pro-Choice." Unlike the news media, the emails or (I suspect) anyone I saw on the morning pundit programs today, I went ahead and pulled up the actual poll questions and results. And I saw a lot of things, including that support for Roe v Wade remains overwhelmingly strong.
But what I really saw is that we are not holding ourselves up to the most basic standards of research as members of the mainstream media or as members of the social media community. ENOUGH. Here is the process I went through this morning that prompted the conclusions of this post.
Let's take a look at my bleary-eyed, decaf-guzzling process at 9 a.m.:
STEP 1: Turn on TV and hear update that Gallup Poll says more Americans are "Pro-Life" than "Pro-Choice" for the first time since 1995.
STEP 2: Google "gallup abortion poll"
STEP 3: Click on sensationalistic headline "Gallup's stunning abortion poll: Pro-life beats pro-choice" from Kansas City Star.
STEP 4: Read article's brief, limited presentation of poll, including statement that
A new Gallup Poll contains stunning news for the pro-choice crowd: Their side is losing, and the pro-life/anti-abortion side is finally winning.
STEP 5: Read email, receive phone call and read blog comments touting the poll or refuting the poll ("Gallup was wrong on all of the election results").
STEP 6: Summarize the inference from news, article, blogs, call and emails: "pro-life" means "opposed to legal abortion." Therefore, "opposition to legal abortion" currently outweighs "support of legal opposition." Suspect that this is not in any way possible. Decided to analyze the facts from the source.
STEP 7: Return to Google results and click on first result, the official Gallup link, to read poll questions and see response for myself.
STEP 8: Read and evaluate list of historical questions.
Questions and responses from 2009 May 7-10 include:
Do you think abortions should be legal under any circumstances, legal only under certain circumstances, or illegal in all circumstances?
22% Legal under any circumstances
53% Legal only under certain circumstances
23% Illegal in all circumstances
2% No opinion
With respect to the abortion issue, would you consider yourself to be pro-choice or pro-life?
NOTE: Trends taken only from polls where pro-life/pro-choice was asked following other questions on abortion (for example, what circumstances should abortion be legal trend)
4% Don't knowwhat terms mean (vol.)
1% No opinion
51% self-identify as Pro-Life, but only 23% feel abortion should be illegal? Doesn't that mean that more than half of the "Pro-Lifers" polled in favor of legal abortion? And isn't that GREAT NEWS - and far more "stunning"? It certainly is to me.
STEP 9: Boiling down the argument. Isn't what we are arguing about in this Pro-Choice/Pro-Life debate the "right to choose"? And if so, do we care how people feel or self-identify as long as they are not trying to inflict those values upon other people? And doesn't this poll show that by a vast majority, Americans are in favor of allowing some form of legal abortion? And don't those numbers include MOST OF THE PRO-LIFE RESPONDENTS?
Just to show minor "trending over time," I took a look at the 2008 answers. This time, Pro-Life or Pro-Choice was a stand-alone question. But let's look at the separate results:
2008 Sep 5-7
2008 May 8-11
33% Overturn Roe v Wade
52% Maintain Roe v Wade
15% No Opinion
So what I see from this poll is that there is no guaranteed correlation between being Pro-Life and Anti-Choice (which is what I call it to stay focused on what is at issue in the debate: whether or not women should have the right to choose to have an abortion), if choice is defined as legal access to abortion, as established by Roe v. Wade. And that is how I, personally, define choice.
So...wow. On a day when just 300 protesters out of thousands of attendees gathered against Obama as Notre Dame's selection as commencement speaker...on a day when Republican Party Chair Michael Steele tried to falsely recharacterize months of the debate as solely being opposition to Obama receiving an honorary degree...on a morning where now a day's worth of headlines have sensationally headlined this poll as evidence that we are losing ground...
We are maintaining and gaining ground on two fronts. First, support for legal abortion, the real issue at hand, remains strong. And second, those who oppose abortion for personal reasons are separating their personal beliefs from their legal considerations.
I feel like saying, "Thanks, Gallup." But first, since I am not a statistician, I welcome other analysis of the data that would help me and others better understand the import of these numbers.
And second, I want to continue stressing the important of speaking from information, not opinion. And challenging filtered presentations that are spouted off as fact.