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January 22, 2013

NBC/WSJ Poll: For First Time, Majority Thinks That Abortion Should Be Legal in All or Most Situations

Bad news for the pro-life position, but maybe not as bad as it seems.

According to the poll, 54 percent of adults say that abortion should be legal either always or most of the time, while a combined 44 percent said it should be illegal – either with or without exceptions…

In addition, a whopping 70 percent of Americans oppose the Roe v. Wade decision from being overturned, including 57 percent who feel strongly about this…

By comparison, just 24 percent now want the Roe v. Wade decision overturned, including 21 percent who feel strongly about this position.

Much of this change, the NBC/WSJ pollsters say, is coming from African Americans, Latinos and women without college degrees — all of whom increasingly oppose the Supreme Court decision from being overturned.

I highlighted Latinos to rebut this enduring myth that Latinos are "naturally conservative" because of their "religious and family values" or whatnot.

As far the topline number, I don't think it's as bad for the pro-life position as it seems simply because I never believed the number when it showed a majority supported the pro-life position, either. In any group sharing an opinion, one third or so will be strong believers, one third will be moderately strong believers, and one third will be light (at best) believers.

This last group is very capable of changing their position at the drop of a hat, because they barely believe in their position. It would be more accurate to say they really don't care about the abortion issue at all than that they are pro-life or pro-choice; if you force them to answer the question, they'll say pro-life or pro-choice, depending on which side is favored by people they know, but even if they flip to the other side it's doubtful they care strongly about that, either.

So I never really believed there was a true "pro-life majority" in the first place. What there was a significant pro-life majority, 35% or maybe 40%, plus enough leaners willing to say they were pro-life to get the number to break 51%. Now a bunch of the latter have changed their nominal position, but they're no more strong pro-choicers than they were pro-lifers.

But that's not to say that the numbers mean nothing at all. The fact that some of these leaners have switched -- most likely for superficial and ephemeral reasons -- does indicate that at least in the realm of superficial and ephemeral beliefs, the pro-choice position now holds the edge.

Why would this be? I can think of a few reasons.

First, unplanned pregnancy is a major lifestyle change for the unmarried. For the married, and especially those who are married and already have some kids, it may be a lifestyle change and a major inconvenience, but it's usually not scary. As fewer and fewer people get married (and people get married at an older age) the pro-choice position is going to increase, because for this cohort unplanned pregnancy is a scary thing, and they want an Out, whatever the philosophical or moral implications might be.

Second, pro-lifers have been overplaying their hand. If someone's in a relationship and isn't sure where he stands, he can issue an ultimatum, either we take this to the next level, or we call it quits. The benefit to such an ultimatum is that it will be a clarifying moment, as a pointed question must now be answered; but the danger there, of course, is that the lightly-attached other might just call it quits.

The Tea Party is not (I'm told) primarily concerned with social issues, but it does definitely stand for Clarification on Important Issues and Issuing an Ultimatum. I think that spirit has been contagious on the right, and those who favor pro-life positions are also running on Conviction platforms now, no longer as willing to fudge issues and offer crowd-pleasing but empty evasions. Todd Akin and Richard Mourdoch, of course, did not offer such evasions, but instead proudly offered their true convictions about the matter.

Well, just as in issuing a relationship ultimatum, issuing a firm, no-evasions stance on a hot-button issue which everyone has some opinion about is dangerous. Sure, it's possible that some people, having heard you announce your position with clarity and courage, will move to your camp, and may move from being light believers to moderately-strong believers or even strong believers.

As many political activists say, "At what point do we chose a hill to die on?" Those with strong political beliefs are tired of being told that this hill, that hill, all the hills are conveniently in this category of Hills Upon Which We Must Not Die.

But of course there's also the downside of the Strong Position, Clearly Announced: Those who are merely lightly attracted to your cause may just decide they're Just Not That Into You, that you're asking more than they're willing to give, and break things off to find other suitors.

And I don't think there's a Silver Lining here, either. In these situations, those who favor the Strong Position, Clearly Announced method grasp at the silver lining, even in political defeat, noting all the positives which flow from the defeat. In the case of Mike Castle, for example, it's noted that we laid down a marker, that we at least did not endorse/advance the cap and trade position, and we've imposed some discipline on elected politicians, that they cannot take our votes for granted, and that they'd better do their utmost to curry favor with us.

Those things are true, but a defeat's a defeat, and further, if public sentiment begins inching away from you towards your opponent, it's not just a single-seat political defeat but a general political defeat which will start causing bad results in unrelated contests.

It may sound like I'm knocking the Tea Party approach, and I am, but only to this extent: I'm not in favor silly bullshit like "Defeat is Clarifying" and "At least we sent a message" and such like. The Patriots "sent a message" to the Ravens on Sunday; that message was "You're stronger than we are."

Everything the Tea Party believes -- that we have to discipline our own politicians to make sure they vote the way we prefer, that fudging on issues may get you elected but ultimately do nothing as far as political results (because you never honestly secured a mandate for action in the first place), and so on, is all completely true, and it's important stuff to keep in mind in any campaign or any interval between campaigning.

But while these things are all true, it's also true that a Loss is a Loss, and it's also true that Losing Public Support is a bad thing (and leads to further bad things down the line), too.

I find myself always playing Devil's Advocate when I discuss these things in real life: I can't stand the Establishment types who never want to make a stand at all. But then I also can't stand the Moderation Is No Virtue sort of crowd who seems to view tactics with scorn.

I can't say either is "right." I think they're actually both right. I think my real problem is with people who can't see that both sides are right, that all these things are true, that there are always unavoidable tradeoffs in any sort of decision-making like this, whether about tactics or substance.

Yes, taking the Strong, Uncompromising Position has a chance of moving the Overton Window in your direction, which the Weak-Tea Fudge Position does not.

But then, taking the Strong, Uncompromising Position can also move the Overton Window away from you, too.

It's a high-risk strategy. As in investing, high-risk plays are the only ones that can generate high value rewards... but then they can also bankrupt you. You can make high-risk investments, but not too many of them, and you have to make such decisions only with great care and deliberation.

I think, by the way, that the GOP largely pursued the Strong Position, Clearly Announced strategy with regard to budget and entitlements. And let me say that I favored this tactic, and I favored the substance of what was being pursued. I was (and remain) a fan of the Ryan Plan.

But just because I favored this play doesn't mean it worked out for us. That is, just because I really, really wanted the high-risk gamble to pay off doesn't mean it did pay off, or that the odds of it paying off were high.

I thought the odds were better than they were, because I wanted the odds to be better than they were. I wanted to think America was ready to hear some adult talk about budget, deficits, entitlements, and free lunches, and its citizens were ready to do their civic duty and learn about the issues and make informed decisions about them.

It turns out I was wrong. They wanted happy talk, they wanted to hear "We've got years and years and years to solve these problems, and in fact it might all just fix itself if we give it enough time, so we should just stop even talking about this stuff and let the Sage Harry Reid make our budgetary decisions for us."

And that's how Obama got elected-- by refusing to clarify, by talking on both sides of his mouth, occasionally vaguely mentioning budgetary discipline and entitlement reform while sending a very clear signal that he did not intend to change a thing.

I mention this because I don't want people to think I'm bashing the Tea Party (except to undermine this idea that the Strong Position, Clearly Announced tactic has no downsides at all and is nothing but upside). I certainly favored the high-risk play.

I was always afraid, though, that the public was not in fact ready for The Truth, and still wanted To Be Lied To, and in fact that was exactly the case.

I'm now wondering if Paul Ryan & Co. wouldn't have been better served, at least tactically, by the age-old political strategy called "lying."

It worked for Obama. Why shouldn't it work for us? We can lie too. I know we can lie. I've lied before. I think I'm sort of good at it.

I'm not sure "The Truth" is a particularly good play in politics. Todd Akin may have told us his honest opinions, and Richard Mourdock too, but did the voters (as a collective whole) actually ask for their honest opinions?

It's important in any business to know what the market actually wants, and sell it what it wants -- as opposed to selling it what you think they ought to want.

Akin and Mourdoch thought, or gambled, that the public wanted their real, honest position on abortion in cases of pregnancy caused by rape. I don't think that's what the market wanted at all.

I think we're always, always going to have this great cleave between what we want as committed ideologues and what we want -- or maybe just need -- as pragmatic political actors.

As an ideologue, I wanted the Ryan Budget and I wanted other politicians to have to take a position on it, so that, if we came to power, we'd have a genuine mandate for it, and the public would have given its blessing (indirectly), and we'd get some actual results for a change.

But as a political actor, I think maybe I should have preferred a go-slow, fudge-it-up, more... "sensitive" approach to the issue. (And by "sensitive" I mean: Dishonest.)

The only upside of losing when making a stand is that at least the public has heard your case-- perhaps some time down the road, they'll even be receptive to it. Later on, as years pass, maybe it won't seem as scary to them, as they've heard it often enough it becomes unthreatening and common, like furniture.

But that's a lot of maybes, and that's all in the future. What we have right now, in the present, with no maybes about it, is a public that's shifted to the pro-choice position, shifted to the pro-amnesty position, and shifted to the Bullshit and Bankruptcy position on budgetary matters.

digg this
posted by Ace at 02:06 PM

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