A new poll from survey research center Marist appears to show a dramatic uptick in the number of Americans who self-identify as pro-life. But critics of the polls methodology — and its vehemently anti-abortion sponsors — have warned against reading too much into the results.
According to the poll, which was sponsored by Catholic men’s organization the Knights of Columbus, an equal number of Americans — 47 percent — now identify as either pro-life or pro-choice. The results marked a major departure from prior polls. A similar Marist survey from last month found that 55 percent of Americans identified as pro-choice, compared to only 38 percent who said they were pro-life. The new poll also found that 80 percent of respondents approved of abortion being limited to the first three months, a 5 point increase from last month’s poll.
Barbara Carvalho, the director of the new Marist poll, attributed the apparent change in public opinion to renewed attacks from Republicans on women’s reproductive rights — and on late-term abortions in particular.
“This has been a measure that has been so stable over time. To see that kind of change was surprising,” said Carvalho. “And the increased discussion [of late-term abortion] in the public forum in the past month appears to have made the biggest difference in how people identify on the issue.”
The poll has gotten traction with the media, but not everyone is sure it reflects a true sea change. Skeptics have said that statistical noise is a more likely cause for the strange results than an actual sudden shift in public opinion.
I like how the pollsters’ explanation is “tens of millions of Americans had their views on a hot-button issue changed by a recent third-order political flap” and not “sampling error” https://t.co/9F5XU4fI9b
— Will Stancil (@whstancil) February 25, 2019
Other critics noted that abortion surveys are notorious for using leading questions to manipulate poll results. Two years ago, for example, another Knights of Columbus poll found that 61 percent of Americans supported banning abortion after 20 weeks. But a subsequent Hart Research survey commissioned by Planned Parenthood determined that in reality, 61 percent of Americans would oppose a 20-week abortion ban in cases involving nonviable pregnancies, rape, or health risk to the mother.
“Once voters consider the range of circumstances in which abortions would be made illegal under most 20-week abortion ban proposals,” explained the pollsters, “a majority of Americans oppose them.”