William Galton's post yesterday at TNR, arguing that the latest Gallup and Pew figures on abortion should counsel the president to "think twice before nominating someone with a long record of support for positions far outside the current cultural mainstream" for the Supreme Court is just plain wrong. Wrong about the polls, wrong about what the polling means, wrong about what Democrats' strategy should be on abortion.
First, as I laid out in today's FundamentaList, and as several people far better versed in parsing polls than I am have shown, the recent Pew and Gallup polls that Galston latched onto are not reliable indicators of public opinion.
The Pew poll showed an inexplicable eight-point drop in support for legal abortion, a finding that is questionable on two grounds: first, it conflicts with other long-term, comprehensive surveys of public opinion on whether abortion should be legal; second, experts say an eight-point drop in public opinion on an issue that has otherwise held steady over years in an eight-month period simply isn't reliable. Shifts like that don't happen.
The most notable problem with the Gallup poll, which asked whether respondents considered themselves "pro-choice" or "pro-life," was that it was based on a sample that was divided evenly between Democrats and Republicans, when data (including Gallup's) shows Democratic voter registration is outstripping Republican voter registration by at least ten percentage points. That a slim majority of respondents identified as "pro-life" doesn't mean a majority of Americans identify as "pro-life."
Yet in these polls, Galston finds justification for a Democratic retreat on its reproductive rights position, because that's what the public would most want. Given that there's no evidence that this is the public's preference in the first place -- indeed there's ample evidence that most Americans want abortion to remain legal, with a few restrictions -- why treat hearty advocacy for the position as a dread disease? Support for reproductive rights shouldn't be feared and swept under the carpet so as to avoid "polarization." There's a legal and moral case for it. Making that case doesn't make you divisive or out of touch. Wear it proud.