Wednesday, February 5, 2020

How many Democrats are pro-life?

Recently, Democrats for Life President Kristen Day questioned Democratic presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg about whether the Democratic Party welcomes pro-life Democrats. She said, in part,
I am a proud pro-life Democrat. Do you want the support of pro-life Democratic voters? There are about 21 million of us.
NARAL President Ilyse Hogue objected to that stat, pointing to a Kaiser poll that found 94% of Democrats think decisions about abortion should be made by women in consultation with their doctors (as opposed to by lawmakers). Hogue said Day's claim of 21M pro-life Dems is "impossible to defend."

It's not really, though.

As has always been the case, polling results regarding abortion heavily depend on the wording of the questions, and no doubt there's room to debate which polls are the most accurate and why. But Day's number isn't pulled from thin air. Dr. Michael New explained succinctly:
  • There are 245 million eligible voters according to the U.S. Census Bureau (see Table 1 here).
  • 33% of voters are Democrats, according to Pew Research Center (number reported as of 1/28/20).
  • 29% of Democrats refer to themselves as "pro-life" according to Gallup.
  • 245,000,000 x 0.33 x 0.29 = 23,446,500 self-identified pro-life Democrats
Still you could reasonably argue that there's a lot of difference between identifying as "pro-life" and wanting abortion to be outlawed. (To think more about what it means to be "pro-life," check out our thought experiment/poll "Who are pro-lifers?" here). How many pro-life Democrats actually want to outlaw abortion?

Well the same Gallup link above found that 14% of Democrats say abortion should be illegal in all circumstances (compared to 39% who say it should be legal under any circumstance). Reworking the math above would get us 11,319,000 Democrats who think abortion should be illegal all the time, making Day's stat seem pretty exaggerated.

But really that number is likely a lower limit, because the vast majority of pro-life people think abortion should be legal "under certain circumstances," e.g. when a woman's life is in danger. Gallup finds that 45% of Democrats take this view and, as has always been the problem with Gallup's wording here, it's difficult to gauge what percent of the legal "under certain circumstances" crowd would be typically considered pro-choice or pro-life. 

In any case more granular polls can give us more info. This poll from The Hill found that 12% of Democrats thought "abortion should be illegal under all circumstances" and another 32% thought "abortion should be legal in limited circumstances such as rape, incest, and to save the life of the mother," giving a total of 45% of Democrats who took pretty strong anti-abortion positions. Working the math above again, that would give us 36,382,500 Democrats who think abortion should be illegal all or almost all the time, making Day's stat seem awfully modest.

We've talked before about how different polls make it seem like the American public takes contradictory stances on abortion, and the same issues apply when we look at Democrats specifically. Even so, we get a range of somewhere between 1 out of 7 and almost 1 out of 2 Democrats who think abortion should be generally illegal. Democrats for Life of America is representing a large portion of the Democratic Party as they face off against increasingly dismissive and hostile party leadership.

Image taken from DFLA FB page.

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