David Frum has written a column in The Week magazine called "The pro-life delusion" in which he claims that a recent Gallup poll showing that 51 percent of Americans self-ascribe as pro-life
is wrong. Worse, it's misleading-and threatens to send Republicans careening in precisely the worst possible direction in pursuit of votes they will not find.
Charles Franklin of Pollster.com explains the poll's big technical error. Gallup oversampled Republicans. At a time when only 1 in 5 Americans identifies as Republican, 32 percent of the respondents in Gallup's survey group identified themselves as Republican.
Frum argues that this poll will lead Republicans to try foolishly to win over "socially conservative, lower-income nonwhites [who] put their economic interests first and vote Democratic" rather than "economically conservative affluent whites [who] put their cultural votes first and also vote Democratic."
There are a few problems with Frum's argument.
It's not as though the overwhelming case that the pro-life issue helps the GOP started with this one Gallup poll. The issue netted votes for the GOP even when majorities self-identified as pro-choice, because pro-lifers have been more likely to vote on the issue. The case that the country has been turning more pro-life doesn't depend on one poll. There has been a clear and widely-recognized trend toward pro-lifers over the last fifteen years.
Moreover, the Gallup poll is not as unreliable as Frum makes it out to be.
Fox News independently found a number of self-identified pro-lifers within two percent (49%). Rasmussen and Pew have both recently shown a significant drop in support for abortion. (And Jay Cost points out that party ID bounces around quite a bit; the proportion of self-identified Republicans is probably closer to 32 percent than 1 in 5, as Frum claims.)
The Polling Company finds that the number of self-ascribed pro-lifers to be slightly lower (47 percent), but when you drill down on this poll it's clear that the anti-abortion position is quite strong: 82 percent of adults oppose third-trimester abortions, and 71 percent oppose taxpayer-funding of abortion.
Obama promised Planned Parenthood in 2007 that his public health-care plan would cover abortions. If the health-care bill unveiled this summer actually covers abortions, wouldn't it be a smart idea for Republicans to point out this fact--loudly and frequently?With the upcoming Supreme Court appointment, would it be foolish for Republicans to point out that Obama's justice is likely to vote to keep late-term abortions legal--regardless of what most Americans believe? I know that this point has been made time and again by some some pro-life conservative writers, but it's a fact that most Americans don't grasp. Obama tries to obscure the facts about Roe for a reason, and he'll get away with it as long as Republicans fail to make an issue out of it.
Now, both GOP and pro-lifers should clearly be willing to support a pro-choice Republican like Rob Simmons in a very liberal state like Connecticut, so long as Simmons votes more like Susan Collins than Lincoln Chafee on conservative judges.
Republicans of all stripes ought to understand that the extent to which a candidate should highlight the abortion issue depends on the constituency to which he or she is trying to appeal. Here Frum makes a reasonable point. If it is true that the only room for Republicans to grow is among white voters, then it probably makes more sense to downplay opposition to abortion than to play it up. A lot of people think that increasing the Republican share of the black and Hispanic vote is unlikely--but making serious inroads among affluent white social liberals seems at least as unlikely. Given current demographic trends, it seems doubtful that Republicans can assemble a long-term majority among whites.
Frum also stacks the deck by wildly overgeneralizing that minority voters "don't vote on life." None of them? By nature? Surely some of the Hispanic votes the GOP keeps getting are based on life. More to the point, the question is whether the party can make important marginal gains among blacks and Hispanics, not whether the party can get "blacks" or "Hispanics" to vote for them en masse.