John Fugelsang, filling in for Eliot Spitzer on Current TV this Thursday, had similar issues with a recent Gallup poll on those self-identifying with the term pro-life as Slate's Amanda Marcotte who wrote about that same poll in her column here: The Problem With Polling About Moral Beliefs:
Another year, another Gallup poll on abortion for anti-choicers to misleadingly represent in a bid to deceive the country into believing they're winning in the court of public opinion. Of course, Gallup shares the blame for this travesty, since it publishes its polling results with a lead about the poll that asks if people identify as pro-choice or pro-life. Inevitably, "pro-life" polls well, much better than it would if it were more accurately phrased as "anti-choice" or "anti-abortion," because it's a fuzzy-wuzzy term that deliberately distracts from the legal and sexual freedom issues at the heart of the abortion debate. This year, the poll found that 50 percent of Americans relate to the empty term "pro-life," and only 41 percent to the term "pro-choice."
But if you actually bother to read on, you'll find that Americans are still majority pro-choice, which is why the direct abortion ban in South Dakota and the personhood law in Mississippi went down when put to an actual vote. Scrolling down, you find that only 20 percent of Americans support the anti-choice movement's goal in banning abortion, with 25 percent of Americans supporting abortion rights in all cases, and 52 percent of Americans wanting abortion legal with some restrictions. (Most people imagine a legal regime that will somehow allow abortion for themselves and their friends, but disallow it for those dirty sluts they hear about so much.) This means that only two out of five people who identify as "pro-life" actually align themselves with the so-called pro-life view, demonstrating neatly how useless that term is and why it needs to be replaced with a more accurate term like "anti-abortion," or my preferred term "anti-choice," which encompasses their anti-contraception activism alongside their anti-abortion activism.
Polling Americans on vague beliefs and self-identity doesn't really tell us much in general beyond highlighting how delusional and/or hypocritical our nation is. The reality is that there's a huge gulf between what people claim to believe—even when speaking anonymously to a pollster—and what they actually believe, which is easier to measure when looking at behavior or what kind of policy choices they support. Read on...
John Fugelsang's take below the fold.
FUGELSANG: This number set off a wave of celebration in the anti-abortion rights community this week and it's our number of the day: 41. That's the percentage of Americans who, according to the new Gallup poll, identify themselves as pro-choice. It's a record low and the Washington Post even ran an op-ed saying this proves Americans are becoming more pro-life.
However, upon closer inspection, it's apparent that this is not a story about numbers. It's a story about words, because in spite of this record low number, the same poll also reveals that only 20 percent of Americans favor abortion being illegal in all cases. 25 percent of Americans support abortion rights in all cases. And 52 percent, and this number includes many of our conservative brothers and sisters, 52 percent support abortion rights in some cases.
Now, I'm not too great at math. I went to one of those U.S. public schools that Gov. Romney calls third world, but 25 and 52 add up to 77 percent of Americans who support the right to an abortion in some or all cases. So even though many older and religious voters would never, ever terminate a pregnancy, they still support women having the right to their own reproductive freedom.
It's a clear majority. They just don't choose to identify themselves as pro-choice. Which when you think about it, is what choice is all about. And that's why it's a story about language. Just as many pro-choice people reject the term pro-abortion. But wherever you stand on this morally complex issue, two things are clear.
One, America does not have an abortion problem. It has an unwanted pregnancy problem; abortion is a symptom. And two, only here in America can you be pro-death penalty, pro-torture, pro-euthanasia, pro-drone bomb, pro-land mine, pro-preemptive war and still call yourself pro-life.