Guest column: Polls focus on Aiken County voters and abortion | Opinion columns


USC Aiken political science students have conducted exit surveys in nearly every statewide election since the 1980s. We ask about current issues and periodically ask about issues at long term, such as abortion. Although the wordings differ slightly, we have always asked voters if they are at the extreme or if they take a middle position in which abortion is only legal in certain situations.

The issue in the last four inquiries (2010, 2012, 2014 and 2016) included two different circumstances that are part of the debate over the Supreme Court’s decision after Dobbs across the country. We asked: Which opinion on abortion best matches your view on when the law should allow abortions? 1) abortion must be entirely the woman’s personal choice; 2) only in cases of rape, incest or when the mother or the fetus has very serious health problems; 3) only when the woman’s life is in danger; 4) Abortion should never be allowed.

Responses have been steady, especially for voters who say “abortion should never be allowed.” Between 2010 and 2016, the percentages were 21%, 13%, 13% and 19%, or about one in five voters. This is similar to the percentages in our first surveys in 1992 and 1994, 23% and 15% respectively. Gallup’s annual national surveys since Roe’s original decision also show remarkable stability through 2022, falling from a high of 21% in 1976 to a low of 13% in 2022. In 2016, national support for a total ban was the same as Aiken County voters, 19%. Although all survey responses are “snapshots in time”, the relative stability of national surveys and our own surveys strongly suggests that if we had asked the question in 2020, the responses would have been much the same as in 2016. .

In 2016, 35% of Aiken County voters wanted abortion to be “entirely a woman’s personal choice”, 28% wanted abortion to be permitted “only in cases of rape, incest or when the mother or the fetus has very serious health problems”. 13% preferred the most restrictive “only when the woman’s life is in danger” and 19% felt that “abortion should never be allowed”. (Note: All of our surveys have a sample size of approximately 700 with a sampling error of +/- 4%, and due to lack of opinion the percentages do not add up to 100%).

Perhaps the most important part of the question today is what voters in the middle two positions think. Most voters (41%) prefer one of the two middle positions. Between these two options, the less restrictive option was much more popular (28% versus 13%).

We broke down the breakdowns of many different groups of voters on the issue: party, ideology, religious fundamentalism, ethnicity, gender and education. In no group did the greatest number of voters support a total ban, and the least restrictive middle position always led to the most restrictive position.

We also looked at “strong Republicans,” who are the voters most likely to participate in Republican primaries. While they were more in favor of a total ban than a total ban (31% versus 11%), a majority of 55% favored one of the two intermediate options, and the least restrictive intermediate position led to again the most restrictive position (33% and 22%).

How legislators respond to public opinion largely depends on how they view their role as representatives and who they view as their constituents. Political science views these roles along a continuum. An “administrator” supports whatever policy he thinks is best, regardless of the opinion of the voters, with the understanding that if the voters disagree, they can elect them. The “delegates” do their best to determine and follow what most of their constituents want. In reality, few legislators are at either extreme. Most play their role as “politico” – their positions depend on how intensely different constituencies feel and the possible electoral consequences.

In particular, Republican lawmakers in Republican-dominated states have backed abortion opponents because many lawmakers share this moral/religious stance and because a significant portion of their base in the primary elections are anti-abortion voters. single issue. Unless voters with more moderate positions on abortion start running in primaries and voting according to their moderate positions, anti-abortion lawmakers will face no significant electoral risk.

We do not know whether the Dobbs decision changes the political environment enough to cause voters with more moderate positions on abortion to base their votes in primary and general elections on abortion. The recent rejection by Kansas voters of a constitutional amendment that would have allowed the legislature to ban abortion outright suggests that voters in more moderate positions are on. But a referendum is very different from an election of legislators whose voters are bound by party brand loyalty. We may be able to learn more about voter preferences for abortion in our 2022 exit poll.

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