Public opinion is a slippery concept

I often argue that there is no such thing as public opinion. There is such a thing as opinion polls. And there is such a thing as election results. But “public opinion” is a vague concept. What does it actually mean?

A few weeks ago, I did a post points out that when abortion was banned on the ballot in North and South Dakota; They were defeated by a very significant margin. And yet we are constantly being told that conservatives oppose abortion, even though they are two of the most conservative states in America.

Another test of my theory occurred yesterday in Kansas. This is how Abortion Referendum The output was expected to be:

The vote will be an early indication of how Americans think about abortion in the midterms. According to the first public opinion poll of the campaign, conducted by Co/Skills and shared exclusively with FiveThirtyEight, 47 percent of likely primary voters said they plan to vote for the amendment. [allowing the legislature to regulate abortion]while 43 percent said they planned to vote against it.

And here’s how Referendum Actually turned out to be:

Tuesday marked the first vote on abortion in a post-Row landscape. Kansans have decided by a double-digit margin that the state constitution does indeed protect abortion rights. With 99 percent of the expected vote reporting, 59 percent of voters voted “no” to the amendment or to clarify that the Constitution protects abortion rights, while 41 percent voted “yes” or to clarify that the Constitution does not protect abortion rights. It is notable that Yes won by 18 points in a state that former President Donald Trump won by about 15 points in 2020.

And that’s despite the odd timing of the polls—time for a primary. The pro-life side hoped that turnout would decline (their only hope).

One thing is now quite clear. If left up to the voters, abortion would be at least partially legal in almost every state in America (except perhaps a handful in the Deep South). I’m not predicting that will happen, because I don’t expect the decision to be left up to the voters. For example, in Wisconsin (a much more liberal state than Kansas), voters are not allowed to vote in referendums. So abortion is illegal in Wisconsin. (Texas is even more liberal than Kansas.)

There are millions, perhaps millions, of Americans who hold both of these statements to be true:

1. Abortion is wrong

2. The question of abortion should be left to the woman and her doctor

After all, people love life. But they also like choices. You’d be surprised how many Americans are pro-life and pro-choice:

Do not mean? Welcome to the world of “no such thing as public opinion”.

The Kansas pro-choice side has won the battle with TV ads that make the debate about women’s freedom to make decisions with their doctors, not whether abortion is wrong. With different framing, the pro-life side could do better.

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