September28, 2020

With the confirmation hearings of Amy Coney Barrett as a Supreme Court Justice about to begin in October, the abortion rights debate is likely move to center stage. In a Pew Research survey conducted on August 4, 2019, showed that 61% of registered voters agreed with “abortion should be legal in all/most circumstances.” And 38% said it should “illegal in most/all circumstance’s.”

In a July 2018 General Social Survey (GSS) found that 49% of all voters supported a “woman’s right to have an abortion for any reason.” Why the difference? Although the Pew survey is more recent, it is highly unlikely the time difference is the main reason for the significant increase. More likely it is the wording of the question.

The most important variance in poll results is the wording of the question. The key word in the Pew survey is “legal,” where the GSS question states “a women’s right.” Some voters may have interpreted to legal as in laws and to a woman’s right, as an intrinsic right that we enjoy independently of any laws.

In their most recent survey (July 2020), the GSS changed the wording to apply to the respondent’s reaction if the Supreme Court reduced current abortion rights. Below is the exact wording and the results from 2400 national interviews.

How pleased or upset would you be if the Supreme Court reduced abortion rights?Percent %
1. Extremely pleased33
2. Moderately pleased16.5
3. Slightly pleased10
4. Neither pleased nor upset23.3
5. Slightly upset5.1
6. Moderately upset5.2
7. Extremely upset6.9

Instead of asking if abortion should be legal or a woman’s right, it asks their reaction to a possible ruling restricting abortion. This wording not only tells us how the voter feels about this possible change but it also measures their intensity as well.

Intensity determines whether a person will likely act on their beliefs. For example, a person who is extremely upset about the ruling is more likely to join a protest against it than a person who is just moderately upset.

Based on this alone, we can estimate the voting potential based on how pleased or upset by a Supreme Court ruling or even the reaction to the confirmation of a Justice who’s past rulings would suggest overturning or diluting the Roe v. Wade abortion decision.

And for abortion supporters, this is the main problem that Republicans have long understood: those opposed to abortion are more likely show their anger at the ballot box than those who support the right of a woman to have an abortion.

Will the confirmation of Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court prior to the election effect the outcome? Not likely. For 98% of voters, who they will vote for is a done decision. Be safe…

By Jim Kane

Jim Kane is a pollster and media advisor, and was for fifteen years an Adjunct Professor of Political Science at the University of Florida. Kane is founder of the polling firm USAPoll and served as the Director of the Florida Voter Poll. His political clients have included both Republican and Democratic candidates, including the Republican Party of Florida, and both the Sun-Sentinel and Orlando Sentinel newspapers. At the University of Florida, Professor Kane taught graduate level courses in political science on Survey Research, Lobbying and Special Interest Groups in America, Political Campaigning, and Political Behavior. In addition to his professional and academic career, Jim Kane has been actively involved in local and state policy decisions. He was elected to the Broward County Soil and Water Conservation Board (1978-1982) and the Port Everglades Authority (1988-1994). Kane also served as an appointed member of the Broward County Planning Council (1995-2003), Broward County Management Review Committee (Chair, 1990-1991), Broward County Consumer Protection Board (1976-1982), and the Broward County School Board Consultants Review Committee (1986-1990).

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