Abortion Polling — New York Times Reporter Misleads on Polling

Pro-life and Pro-Choice demonstrators stand in front of the Supreme Court during a pro-life rally in Washington, D.C., January 22, 2004. (William Philpott/Reuters)

Astead Herndon, a national political reporter at the New York Times, argues that the “modern gop is largely untethered to majority opinion. state and House district gerrymandering/senate population distribution/electoral college gives them a route to power without appealing to the majority.”

He makes this assertion based on a Gallup poll from this June in which 58 percent of Americans expressed support for Roe v. Wade — the 1973 Supreme Court decision that established a nominally limited, but practically almost unlimited right to abortion in the United States — and in reference to Texas’s new abortion legislation, which went into effect on Wednesday. But it is manifestly misleading cite this singular survey as the end all-be all for public opinion polling on the issue.

Indeed, many Americans may not be aware of what exactly Roe is and what its the policy consequences are. Other polling results suggest that this ignorance skews the specific question that Herndon cites.

Gallup also found that this year, 47 percent of Americans — including 43 percent of women — identify as pro-life while 49 percent call themselves pro-choice. This less confusing question, which comes free of any civic knowledge prerequisites would seem to be a much more accurate gauge of the public’s actual feelings on abortion.

Essentially, when you account for the margin of error, the country is split on the question — with a majority favoring the existence of a right to abortion to an extent, but also favoring a curbing back of the permissive status quo. While 60 percent think abortion should be legal during the first trimester of a pregnancy, only 28 percent believe that option should continue to be available in the second three months.

Roe and its successor case, Planned Parenthood v. Casey, both forbid states from passing laws limiting abortion well into the second trimester.

An NPR/PBS NewHour/Marist poll from 2019 would seem to confirm the theory that Roe is an amorphous polling subject. Seventy seven percent supported upholding Roe in that survey while 61 percent said they wanted restrictions in place that are not possible while the case remains the controlling law of the land.

Herndon’s logic also implies that any political party that finds itself in the minority on any given issue must hold that opinion only because it considers itself politically “untethered” to majority opinion more generally. Were that the case, neither party could fairly be categorized as tethered to majority opinion.

Notably, the Supreme Court has not thrown out Roe by allowing the Texas’s law to stand for the time being. Instead, it has merely observed that it has no capacity to grant relief against any of the defendants named in the suit meant to nullify the law. “This order is not based on any conclusion about the constitutionality of Texas’s law, and in no way limits other procedurally proper challenges to the Texas law, including in Texas state courts,” wrote the majority.

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