Polling on abortion hit-and-miss in Indiana. (Getty Images)
Recent Indiana abortion surveys are few and far in between — with big changes in support and opposition based on wording and level of detail — so Indiana Republicans commissioned their own poll, as they draw up abortion-restricting proposals for a special session this month.
The House and Senate GOP campaign committees conducted a poll on abortion shortly after the U.S. Supreme Court handed down the Dobbs v. Jackson decision on June 24. The polling firm is reliably Republican, but the results were shocking to some conservative members of the caucuses.
Multiple GOP insiders spoke to the Indiana Capital Chronicle anonymously because the poll is being heavily guarded. Requests about the survey to House Speaker Todd Huston as well as both the House Republican Campaign Committee and Senate Majority Campaign Committee were ignored.
What is clear, according to the insiders, is that Hoosiers don’t want a near-virtual ban on abortion. Instead, they support exceptions for rape, incest and the life of the mother. And many are supportive of allowing abortion up to 15 weeks of gestation.
Senate Republicans recently met for about six hours in a private caucus, taking several secret-ballot votes on what will go into the initial proposed legislation. House Republicans had a similar meeting.
With Republican supermajorities in both chambers and Republican Eric Holcomb in as governor, restrictions are likely. But how far will they go, and what do Hoosiers support?
Indiana Democrats say Republicans are out of step with voters on strict abortion rules.
“They’ve dodged people like you about their plans for a total abortion ban for the Hoosier State, because they know how unpopular and extreme their plans are to voters,” said Indiana Democratic Party Chairman Schmuhl. “They’d rather caucus in secret than talk about one of the most personal issues facing voters.”
Just 17% of Hoosiers supported a ban on abortion in all cases in 2019, according to Ball State University’s annual non-partisan public policy survey. That’s the last time the Bowen Center for Public Affair’s Hoosier Survey included a question on abortion, Democrats have campaigned heavily on the statistic.
But the full results show Hoosiers were split relatively evenly. About 48% of respondents said abortion should be legal in all or most cases, compared to the 45% who said the procedure should be illegal in all or most cases.
And those numbers have stayed consistent.
“If I were able to run a survey today on abortion, I would bet money that it probably wouldn’t look too different from what we found in 2019,” said Bowen Center Director Chad Kinsella. “And it really was interesting, because we ran [an abortion question] in 2012 too, and the 2019 and 2012 data look pretty much almost the same.”
But the poll doesn’t specify what might be an exception, like rape, incest or health of the pregnant person. Kinsella said his team could expand the question in its upcoming October survey — but not too much.
Make a question or answer choice too complex, and “people will just give answers,” Kinsella said. “We take it as gospel and it’s just somebody who was just ready to move on [from the question].”
Different phrasing, different answer
But ask the question differently, and the answer might change.
In a 2020 SurveyUSA poll of Indiana voters, about 58% of respondents said Roe v. Wade, the landmark abortion legalization decision, should remain the law of land, while just 27% said it should be overturned. Another 15% weren’t sure. The U.S. Supreme Court overturned the ruling last month.
Get more nuanced, and public opinion varies greatly.
The COVID States project did just that in a lengthy 2022 survey, which broke the issue down into questions about gestational cut-offs, fetal health, maternal health and more.
But a significant number of respondents picked a middle choice, “neither support or oppose,” rather than committing to support or opposition. The survey was also conducted online, opt-in-style, which can make it more challenging to get a random and representative sample.
How much do you care?
Public opinion is just one part of the calculus for Indiana lawmakers, as they debate how strict to go on abortion legislation.
Officeholders care most about the opinions of people who were already likely to vote for them, and people on the fence, Kinsella said.
“The people protesting in Indianapolis and the people who are strongly pro-choice, there’s no way that they’re moderates, swing voters or Republicans,” he said. “They voted Democratic, and they have no interest in voting Republican. So they were kind of out anyway.”
And thought doesn’t always translate to action.
“[Public opinion] will only matter if there’s enough backlash where people lose elections,” Kinsella added. “… Public opinion is only important if there’s kind of that ‘Come to Jesus’ moment.”
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