In the world of Democratic political messaging, the dominant narrative is that women support abortion rights while men — specifically Republican men — seek to deny them. But that narrative is not only simplistic, it is also largely false.
In fact, lost in the “war on women” debate — of which abortion is the linchpin issue — is the fact that women are about as likely to oppose abortion as support it. What’s more, many polls suggest they are less inclined to support abortion than are men. And it’s been that way for years.
A 2002 poll by Public Agenda found that men were more likely, by two percentage points (44 to 42 percent), to think that abortion should be generally available. It also found that women were more likely than men to want abortion criminalized.
In a 2009 CBS News/New York Times survey, women were less likely than men to support abortion (37 to 40 percent) and more likely (24 to 20 percent) to believe it should be outlawed.
Interestingly, in a summary of polls between 2005 and 2009, Gallup found that 21 percent of women believed all abortions should be illegal, while just 16 percent of men felt that way.
More recently, a 2012 Gallup poll found that more women considered themselves “pro-life” (46 percent) than “pro-choice” (44 percent).
A 2013 Quinnipiac poll found that 60 percent of women support a ban on abortion past 20 weeks of pregnancy. Fifty percent of men felt similarly. Other polls on the 20-week ban found similar differences between the sexes.
And a 2013 Pew Research Center survey found that women were more likely than men (49 to 45 percent) to believe that abortion is morally wrong. Women were also more likely to support overturning Roe v. Wade.
This isn’t only an American phenomenon. Recent polls in England find that women are more likely to oppose abortion than are men.
So if women are at least as likely to oppose as support abortion, and are more pro-life than men, why do Democrats feel they can attract women by exploiting the abortion issue?
Part of it is perception. Abortion is naturally seen as a woman’s issue because pregnancy affects women more directly and profoundly than men. And it is an article of faith among liberals that women should have complete control over their bodies — as well as the bodies inside them.
Liberals have also done a good job of convincing the country that it supports abortion more than it actually does. According to Gallup, 51 percent of American adults believe the public is “mostly pro-choice,” while just 35 percent believes the public is “mostly pro-life.” As Gallup notes:
“This general perception that the pro-choice viewpoint prevails contrasts with the nearly even division of Americans’ actual views. The same poll finds that 48% of Americans call themselves pro-life and 45% pro-choice.”
Interestingly, conservatives, Republicans and pro-lifers are the groups that got closest to identifying the correct pro-choice/pro-life balance (though even they overestimated the pro-choice camp’s support).
All of this raises a reasonable question: Is the Democrats’ emphasis on abortion really helping them with female voters? In the current campaign, the answer appears to be no.
A just-released Associated Press-GfK poll found that by a 44 percent to 42 percent margin, women are now more likely to want the Republicans to control the Senate than the Democrats.
This is a striking finding given how much time Democratic candidates and outside liberal groups have spent attacking Republicans on abortion and its related issues.
In Colorado, for example, incumbent Democratic Senator Mark Udall is being mocked as “Mark Uterus” because of his campaign’s focus on the abortion and birth control views of his Republican challenger, Rep. Cory Gardner. Yet, a recent Fox poll showed Udall leading by just five points among women.
The Colorado race is no outlier. “In race after race,” the nonpartisan website Factcheck.org recently stated, “Democratic ads are misrepresenting, distorting and exaggerating their Republican opponents’ position on abortion to make them seem more strict (and therefore less popular) than they really are.”
But it doesn’t seem to be helping Democratic candidates. Republican candidates are doing surprisingly well with women voters. That’s probably partly because, as Democratic pollster Celinda Lake notes, “[Saying] ‘Republicans are waging a war on women’ actually doesn’t test very well. Women find it divisive, political — they don’t like it.”
The simple truth is that while women hold more liberal views than men on a variety of political and cultural issues, abortion just isn’t one of them. That is something for both Democrats and Republicans to ponder as they look ahead to the 2016 campaign.
Former presidential candidate Gary Bauer is president of American Values and chairman of the Campaign for Working Families.