Public Support for Abortion Rights and the Perils of “Support”
Jodi Jacobson, at RH Reality Check, talks about the disconnect between the public and politicians on abortion, which touches on something I’ve been emphasizing here.
Consistent rejection by actual voters of attempts to give the state control over women’s bodies tells us three things. One, polls that attempt to divide people into neat boxes such as “pro-choice” and “pro-life” or to measure support for hypothetical restrictions on abortion in generic terms do not reflect how people really feel about safe abortion care. In fact, when asked specifically about who should make decisions on how and when to bear children and under what circumstances to terminate a pregnancy, voters make clear they do not want to interfere in the deeply personal decisions they believe belong between a woman, her partner and family, and her medical advisers, even in cases of later abortion. In short, voters do not want legislators playing god or doctor.
I’ve become increasingly critical of the central role of ‘support’ is assessing public opinion, especially as it is often done. I’ve objected to idea that submerged state polices are caused by the public, that the drone program and mass surveillance are products of public opinion and how death penalty opinions are misunderstood. This is one more example of how inattention to the details produces progressive fatalism and conservative dominance.
The point isn’t that pollsters or those who publicize them are being intentionally dishonest, but that they tend to overestimate how conservative the public is (because of conservative political outcomes) and that looking for global ‘support/oppose’ numbers may be an effective way to know who someone is going to vote for (once a race is well-defined) but it’s a poor way to understand public policy positions. And since Democrats are going to be tagged as liberal no matter what they do, they might as well get points for taking actual progressive stances and show they actually stand for something–leaving aside that it’s simply the right thing to do.
Politicians aren’t going to listen to these arguments. But those who follow politics should and press those who claim to represent them to act even when it looks like they are going against what the public ‘supports.’