Axios, always atop breaking news trends, posted a bold headline Feb. 24 that announced “New Poll Finds ‘Dramatic Shift’ on Abortion Attitudes.”
The February poll showed Americans are evenly split between those identifying as “pro-choice” and as “pro-life,” tied at 47 percent, while only a month before the same pollster reported pro-choicers outnumbered pro-lifers, 55 percent to 38 percent.
The Axios article recycled a press release from the polls’ sponsor, the Knights of Columbus, that proclaimed "in just one month Americans have made a sudden and dramatic shift away from the prochoice position and toward a pro-life stance.” See January release here and February release here.
Abortion attitudes remain as politically and religiously potent today as they’ve been the past 46 years, so reporters are ever alert to trends. But should the media be reporting that thinking across the fruited plain lurched from a big gap to a tie between Jan. 8-10 and Feb. 12-17, the survey dates?
What are the odds? Democrats’ recent advocacy for unpopular late-term abortions alongside intimations of infanticide might be driving a modest pro-life uptick, but 17 points?
With polls, journalists always need to be careful and assess the full context. The Religion Guy’s hunch here is that the fat abortion-rights majority in January was an outlier, and the February tie is pretty much representative of American thinking. Why? See below.
Preliminaries: The Knights, who paid for both the January and February polls, are ardently pro-life Catholics. However, they hired the well-regarded Marist Poll to run the survey and crunch the numbers. Despite its Catholic name and origin, sponsoring Marist College is officially non-sectarian. Technical note: the Knights did not reveal the polls’ response rates, an all-important factor.
The Religion Guy maintains that February’s 47-47 tie is interesting but not the big news as trumpeted.
Enter the Gallup Poll, journalists’ invaluable gold standard for asking consistent religious and moral questions across many years.
Gallup’s comprehensive compilation on abortion attitudes shows this version of the Marist question, asked 32 times since 1995: “Would you consider yourself to be pro-choice or pro-life?”