The abortion debate is getting a lot of attention these days. Anti-abortion rights activists see President Trump’s conservative appointments to the Supreme Court as an opportunity to overturn Roe v. Wade. A new poll asked Utahns about their support for 1973 case that legalized abortion.
Kyrene Gibb is Vice President of Research for Y2 Analytics in Salt Lake City. They conducted their poll for the political reporting group UtahPolicy.com. KUER’s Elaine Clark sat down with her to talk about their findings and what it means for anti-abortion legislation in Utah.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Elaine Clark: Most Utahns support Roe v. Wade. That could be the law as-is, expanding it or adding some restrictions. But when you combine all of those responses — that’s 58% of Utah voters who want to keep the law in place in some form.
Kyrene Gibb: That’s correct. So, most Utahns don't want to see Roe v. Wade done away with altogether. And what that looks like varies to some degree. But to reverse that decision would be unpopular from most Utah voters.
EC: Was there anything surprising about these numbers?
KG: I think the most surprising thing is how many Utahns prefer the status quo. We see from this poll that 35% of Utah voters are happy with the situation the way it is and don't want to see any additional restrictions oraccess granted.
EC: There's some significant differences in how much support for Roe there is in the Republican party. Only 12% of strong Republicans support Roe in some way. But of the people who call themselves Republican — though admittedly not very strong Republicans — that number is 53% in support of Roe. What do you make of that difference?
KG: Among Utah voters who call themselves “strong” Republicans, we see significantly more conservative ideals and a stronger emphasis on a pro-life perspective. Those sort of “not so strong” Republicans who identify as Republican but maybe don't espouse some of the party ideals as strongly are more want to preserve the status quo.
EC: Do you have numbers on people who are affiliated with the Republican Party in the state of Utah — how many of them identify as “strong” Republicans and how many of them identify as “not very strong” Republicans?
KG: In a July survey of 2,600 registered voters in the state of Utah, we found that the strong Republicans outnumber the not so strong Republicans 2-to-1. They don’t represent the largest voting bloc in the state.They represent a significant voting bloc in the state, but unaffiliated voters who lean toward one party or another tend to outnumber the less party-faithful.
EC: And among those I believe the numbers came in at about 36% in support of Roe v. Wade.
KG: That's correct. And those independents who lean Republican actually tend to reflect more closely the ideals of “strong” Republicans than they do the “not very strong” Republicans.
EC: 64% of “very active” Mormons say they want Roe overturned. But The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has a somewhat nuanced view on abortion. They're obviously against elective abortions, but they make exceptions for rape, incest, health of the mother — even severe birth defects. What do you make of opposition to Roe v. Wade among active Mormons?
KG: A couple of interesting things: When we look at “very active” members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, a strong majority — nearly a two-thirds majority — would like to see Roe v. Wade overturned and restrictions increased. That number is actually in proportion with the number of “very active” members of other Christian faiths.
I think it's important to note that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints doesn't frequently speak out about the abortion debate. This isn't an issue area where they have a hard line. So, members are somewhat free to interpret what the Church's position is on the issue and what that means in practice for governance. And I think if we were to ask some of these individuals whether they thought their beliefs were in line with the Church's stance on the issue, they would say that they do.
EC: How does opinion on Roe v. Wade break down by gender? Do more women support the law than men?
KG: There aren't a lot of statistically significant differences. Among Utah voters and among voters nationwide the differences in perspective aren't shaped by gender, they're shaped by party identity and by party ideology.
EC: That surprised you.
KG: It did surprise me. I expected to see significantly different perspectives about access to abortion and whether that should be restricted or not — particularly between men and women.
EC: It makes me wonder if this idea that we have that there is a difference in opinion on the issue of abortion by gender — is something that partisans are using to try to influence opinion on this?
KG: I think that's likely, whether that is intentional or not. Maybe that base assumption that there are more differences than there are similarities between men and women — on this issue in particular — is informing a lot of the dialogue at a partisan level.
EC: So, this last legislative session, Utah Rep. Cheryl Acton, Republican from West Jordan, sponsored a bill to ban abortions at 15 weeks. That eventually passed as an 18-week ban and is now being challenged in the courts. Republican Sen. Dan McCay from Riverton has said he plans to introduce a bill to ban elective abortions this coming session in 2020. What do you think this poll signals about this kind of legislation here in Utah?
KG: I think it's difficult to say how voters will feel about this issue come January. I'm certain there will be new considerations introduced.
EC: Such as?
KG: For example, other states enacting various types of legislation, elected officials speaking out publicly about the issue. All of these things could become relevant considerations between now and the 2020 session.
That said, I think looking at voters’ perspective now, it will be interesting to see how legislators react to public opinion on the issue. I think most of our state legislators are eager to produce policy and legislation that is for the good of the whole. And to know what that whole thinks about the legislation hopefully influences some of those decisions. At this snapshot in time, at both a state and federal level, it would appear that the majority of voters would not be in favor of a ban that goes beyond the status quo.
EC: But there's a difference between legislation that is symbolic and legislation that is actually meant to be enforced and make real substantive changes …
KG: Absolutely. It can be symbolic and makes a statement about Utah's values and about the state's position on an issue. And perhaps the goal of introducing this type of legislation is to place Utah at the forefront of pro-life regulations.
Between all of those what ifs and all of the issues that could come up between now and the 2020 legislative session, it will certainly be interesting to see what the legislative outcomes are.