Friday, January 27, 2006
Abortion Polls and Senator Feinstein's Theory of Relativity
I really couldn’t believe what I heard Sen. Feinstein say one recent Sunday morning on Fox News. In fact, her comments were so startling, I didn’t trust my ears. I had to go to the instant-replay to confirm it. My ears were fine. Her comments were not.
Sen. Feinstein said, “The American people, according to the latest ABC poll are 60 percent supportive of Roe.” I couldn’t believe my ears because I recently analyzed a number of abortion polls, including the same ABC News/Washington Post poll (published Dec. 21, 2005) referenced by the senator. The poll asked respondents when abortion should be legal:
· 17%, legal in all cases
· 40%, legal in most cases
· 27%, illegal in most cases
· 13%, illegal in all cases
· 3%, unsure
It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to find the 60 percent Sen. Feinstein was referring to:
“legal in all cases” + “legal in most cases” + “unsure” = 60 percent
The addition might be simple, but the logic is fatally flawed. The answer derived is flat out wrong. And it isn’t just the obvious stretch of including the “unsure” category in the equation. The real whopper is that Roe v. Wade did not make abortion “legal in most cases.” It legalized abortion in essentially all cases.
Feinstein’s math is based on the principle that even though “legal in most cases” isn’t exactly Roe, it is support for some form of abortion. In a figurative sense, it’s a relative of Roe. Though not technically the same, the two are related. Though obviously flawed, this creative form of math is so frequently used it deserves an official title. In honor of one of its most ardent practitioners, I propose we name it “Feinstein’s Theory of Relativity.”
I know some of you are gnashing your teeth at this point. You think “legal in most cases” should be counted as support for Roe because you actually believe that Roe, in theory, restricts some cases of second and third trimester abortion. I believe it can be proven that theory and practice are two different things when it comes to Roe. However, I’m willing to go along with the illusion of Roe actually restricting abortion because it doesn’t change the fact that Roe lacks majority support even when presented in this most favorable light.
Here’s the proof. The “legal in most cases” category is ambiguous enough that respondents could interpret it to mean anything from almost always legal to legal only under very tight restrictions. When a more discerning set of questions was asked in another recent poll conducted by the Los Angeles Times (Jan. 2005), the following results were recorded:
24%, legal in all cases
19%, legal in most cases
41%, illegal with a few exceptions (specifically, cases of rape, incest and to save a mother’s life)
12%, illegal in all cases
Isn’t the difference interesting and enlightening? If we take the most liberal interpretation of the data possible and assume that everyone in the “legal in most cases” category supports Roe, then 43 percent of Americans support Roe, 53 percent do not and 4 percent are undecided. Moreover, the 53 percent who don’t support Roe would change it radically if given the opportunity—abortion would only be legal in cases of rape, incest and to save the mother’s life.
These two polls are not anomalies. I’ve reviewed every abortion poll I could find and the results are always the same. Don’t take my word for it. You can check it out for yourself. You will find that on average approximately 40 percent support Roe, 40 percent support abortion only in cases of rape, incest and protection of the mother’s life, and 15 percent would not allow an abortion under any circumstances. Thus a majority of approximately 55 percent would change Roe significantly if given the chance at the ballot box.
I hope you are now wondering why you’ve never read or heard a report from mainstream media that begins with the headline “Poll Finds a Majority of Americans Oppose Roe v. Wade.” Do you think it’s possible that reporters and editors consistently ask misleading questions and then apply Feinstein’s Theory of Relativity to the data collected? I’ll leave that up to you. But the next time you hear someone say that a majority of Americans support Roe I hope it’s as shocking to your ears as it is to mine.