College Pulse found something it wasn’t expecting in its new survey of student attitudes on abortion and the law. So it spun its results to show the opposite.
The national survey firm focused on college students claims that students are more supportive of abortion rights than the general public, in spite of finding that a quarter at most support legal abortion for the so-called exception categories.
One of the most common justifications for abortion – the risk to the mother’s health of carrying to term – only draws 24 percent support from the survey population of more than 10,000 four-year students. It goes down from there: rape (23 percent), “severe” fetal abnormalities (20 percent) and partner-related problems (14-17 percent).
In other words, students are skeptical of even the most dire situations in which women seek (or are forced to get) abortions.
Either students didn’t understand they could choose “up to 5 options” in the survey question, or students provide pro-life attitudes when presented with specific reasons for abortion.
The latter seems more plausible, given that students answered the exact opposite when presented with nonspecific reasons for abortion.
This is what was highlighted by College Pulse, founded by Dartmouth College students Terren Klein and Robin Jayaswal (below) in 2017.
The headline on its blog post is “College Students Support Legal Abortion.” The post – the only element of the survey likely to be read by most visitors – doesn’t even mention the survey’s findings on widespread student support for abortion restrictions, which are buried in its “topline” findings.
College Pulse highlights just two parts of the survey: overall support for legal abortion and gender attitudes. When asked whether abortion “should be legal in all or most cases” – without specifying those cases – 78 percent agreed.
An included graph in the blog post, but not its text, at least distinguishes the “all” (35 percent) from the “most” (43 percent). Even among the 22 percent who believe abortion should generally be illegal, 17 percent apply that to “most” cases.
The gender split was 81 percent for women and 72 percent for men in favor of generally legal abortion, which College Pulse framed as a “stark gender divide.” It’s not.
There is indeed a substantial gender divide on the relevance of abortion to voting patterns, however: The survey found college women view abortion as a litmus test by a 20-percentage-point margin over college men. College Pulse, however, doesn’t indicate which side of the abortion divide more strongly uses abortion as a litmus test in voting.
As Students for Life of America notes, College Pulse reached a “deceptive, and largely untrue, conclusion” when it promoted the survey results.
But College Pulse isn’t unusual. Mainstream survey firms have a history of asking general or vague questions about legal abortion, which are known to deliver results that broadly support legal abortion.
When you ask survey populations specific questions about conditions for abortion, however, they tend to provide pro-life answers, as SFLA learned when its polling arm surveyed millennials earlier this year:
Now the [College Pulse] data does show that 46% had a very favorable view of Planned Parenthood, 24% were mostly favorable, and 9% were mostly unfavorable. But even this isn’t a very in-depth question. When the Institute for Pro-Life Advancement, our research arm, conducted polling on Planned Parenthood, we actually described what Planned Parenthood does (abortions) and doesn’t do (mammograms) and watched as support fell.
SFLA’s survey actually found that when college students are told what Roe v. Wade allows – abortions throughout pregnancy – a slight majority opposed the Supreme Court’s 1973 decision.
It looks like College Pulse was smart enough to design a survey that asked about support for abortion in specific circumstances, but not brave enough to actually tout student attitudes that undermined the mainstream narrative.
IMAGE: College Pulse logo