Will Abortion Make a Difference in the 2004 Election?

John Kerry announced recently that “life begins at conception.” So?

What was Kerry up to?

Before Kerry opened his mouth, pollsters and pundits had been trying to pin the abortion jellyfish to the wall. It is indeed slippery.

Andrew Greeley in the June 18 Los Angeles Times stated his belief that the effect of the candidate’s abortion views has a miniscule effect on the average Catholic voter. According to the National Opinion Research Center, only 4% of American Catholics consider themselves “pro-life” on all seven NORC questions. The availability of abortion after rape was one of them.

Thus, 24% of Catholics (and 20% of Protestants) said in the NORC poll that abortion should NOT be legal after rape. This group of Catholics was 10% less likely to vote for Al Gore than other Catholics. 10% of 24% is 2.4%. Catholics being one-quarter of the population, this means 0.6% was the loss to Gore in the popular vote — not an insignificant amount in New Mexico and Florida. Except that we can’t be sure if the abortion/rape issue was the reason this portion of Catholics were opposed to Gore. In other words making the rape exception (or lack thereof) an issue may cost John Kerry up to 0.6% of the vote, but maybe less. But might it increase his vote among other populations?

We have heard alot of talk from the candidates on values. Americans want a President who reflects their values, or at least values they respect. A recent Gallup poll found that a majority of Americans (exactly 50%) believe abortion immoral.

The immorality ranking was:

91% against extramarital affairs.

88% against cloning human beings.

79% against suicide (except if a doctor assists, then only 41% oppose.

54% against homosexual activity.

50% against abortion.

37% against stem cell research oncells from aborted babies.

36% against premarital sex.

26% against divorce.

Compare this list with the issues that Americans consider either extremely or very important in the upcoming election:

Education—————–86% consider extremely/very important




Situation in Iraq———80%


Federal budget deficit—-72%

Foreign affairs———–65%


Corporate Corruption——60%


Gun policy—————-53%


Same-sex marriage———44%

Imagine corporate corruption ranking higher than abortion!

But what do we hear about in the past few weeks? Not much on Kenny Lay. Rather, John Kerry on when life begins and George Bush on the defense of traditional marriage. And note that Bush went out of his way to say that he was not going to attack homosexual activity in the privacy of one’s home (not that he could anyway until the Supreme Court changes) but he could have attacked the court’s ruling in Lawrence v. Texas overturning the Texas sodomy law. And Kerry quickly defended Roe v. Wade, which a majority of Americans say they support (though I defy a majority to say accurately what it says). Both candidates are cutting the apple pretty finely. Both issues are a minefield. The challenge for both candidates, as Gallup has said, is to present their views in a way that will attract the most supporters and offend the least number.

In 2000 exit polling said that only 14% of voters said abortion was an important issue, and more of these favored Bush than Gore.

Polling answers on abortion depend on what question is asked.

While Gallup (I tend to use Gallup since they have been asking the same questions the longest) shows that American are about equally divided on calling themselves pro-choice or pro-life, there is some significant difference if Americans are asked if they want abortion laws more or less strict. Now the answer may depend on where a person lives since states have different laws on abortion access, and it may depend if the respondent interprets the question nationally or locally. That said, about twice as many Americans want abortion laws more strict than they are now. The figures are:

40% keep laws the same

37% make laws more strict

20% make laws less strict.

In the 16 battleground states, the net “more strict” figure is 14% points. So John Kerry sees the danger of being “totally” pro-choice—he gets the 60% of the electorate — perhaps (the “as is” group and the “less strict” group) —, but he runs the risk of losing independents and undecideds who may favor a “more strict” approach. Bush runs the risk — by advocating abortion restrictions and the overturn of Roe — of losing the 60% majority for “as is” and “less strict”.

We in the pro-choice movement have tried to carry the abortion water for John Kerry and have pointed out that Bush wants to overturn Roe. The problem is that half the American people don’t believe us. 50% do, according to Gallup, but 37% do not and 13% have no opinion. The perception of Bush wanting to ban all abortions actually hurts Bush: 17% said it would make it more likely they would vote for him and 23% said it would make it less likely, while 58% said it would not affect their vote.

The gender gap is growing on the abortion issue. In the May 2004 Gallup poll, 24% said abortion should be legal under any circumstances. This figure has remained remakably consistent for over 25 years. But in 1997 for instance men and women held this opinion equally. Now women are much more likely to hold this opinion: 28% of women held this opinion while only 19% of men did, a 9% difference. A National Annenberg Election Survey released July 2 found a smaller but distict gender gap, as well as a marriage gap with marrieds being more likely to favor banning all abortions than singles.

So the single woman voter is the key here. We know that and pro-choicve organizations are registering as many as we can to vote. I ask every waitress if she is registered to vote.

But it is equally important to take the fight to Bush. Make Bush take a stand on Roe. Make him say he wants it overturned. Make him say he wants abortion criminalized. Don’t let him weasle by talking about unelected judges or “partial birth” abortion or taking teens across state lines or Lacy’s Law. Kerry is playing it too safe. It is time he got bold. He will win if he does.

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