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Polling Planned Parenthood

11:09 AM, Apr 12, 2011 • By JOHN MCCORMACK
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CNN polls 824 American adults

"As you may know, the federal government currently provides funding to support some programs run by the organization called Planned Parenthood. Do you think federal funding for Planned Parenthood should be eliminated entirely, or do you think the federal government should continue to provide funding to Planned Parenthood?"

The results:

Eliminate funding: 34%

Continue to provide funding 65%

These are rather astonishing results--they actually show higher support for Planned Parenthood than an intentionally skewed poll, commissioned by Planned Parenthood, did.* As Politico reported recently:

The survey, conducted by the Democratic firm Public Policy Polling and worded to begin by informing respondents of Planned Parenthood’s most popular services, found “overwhelming” opposition to the cuts, pollster Tom Jensen wrote in a memo.

The survey — which doesn’t use the word “abortion” — found that 57 percent of voters opposed barring federal funding for Planned Parenthood, while only 36 percent supported the move. 

If you front-load a poll with the right information, you can show pretty much any political candidate winning office. (I recall John Kerry's 2008 Republican opponent, who ended up losing by 35 points, did something like this in one poll.) So the PPP poll, purchased by Planned Parenthood, shows that if you inform respondents of Planned Parenthood's popular services, funding is quite popular. It's surprising that the CNN poll, which provides no information other than the name of Planned Parenthood, shows even higher support.

But how different would those results be if voters knew the basic fact that Planned Parenthood performs abortions? In all likelihood, the numbers would drop like a rock. Here's a Washington Post/ABC poll taken during the 2009 health care debate:

21. Say someone buys private health insurance using government assistance to help pay for it. Do you think insurance sold that way should or should not be allowed to include coverage for abortions?

Should 35
Should not 61

CNN's new poll also finds that 35% of Americans are "in favor of using public funds for abortions when the woman cannot afford it."  And a Gallup poll in 2009 found that (you guessed it) 35% of Americans favor "allowing funding for overseas family planning groups that provide abortions."

It seems to me that Gallup's phrasing, without the word "overseas," would be the fairest way to poll the Planned Parenthood issue. The whole debate is not about whether federal family planning money should be "entirely eliminated"--or even reduced. It's about whether or not groups that perform abortions should receive government subsidies. 

*Update: A March 3 Quinnipiac poll of registered voters asked: "Do you support or oppose cutting off federal government funding to Planned Parenthood?" The results: 43% favored cuts and 53% opposed cuts.

And a poll conducted by Pulse Opinion Research for The Hill found much more mixed views:

46 percent of those surveyed said Planned Parenthood’s funding should be left alone, while 42 percent say it should be cut. The poll’s margin of error is plus or minus 3 percent

CNN's poll was of American adults, while The Hill's poll was of likely voters, so that may explain some of the difference. 

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