Yesterday, the College Republicans published the results of a study on registered voters 18-29 years old, for the apparent purpose of swaying the Republican Party toward a message more friendly to that cohort. The study was developed by the Winston Group and conducted by YouGov. You can sign up here to receive the full report.
Among other issues discussed, the report devotes several pages to the topic of abortion:
Despite a great deal of rhetoric broadly declaring young voters to be “liberal on social issues,” the data do not show that young people are significantly more likely to be pro-choice. In the March 2013 CRNC survey, respondents were given four options: abortion should be legal in all cases, legal
“up until a certain point in the pregnancy,” illegal with exceptions for health of the mother or in cases of rape or incest, or illegal in all cases. The results debunk the conventional wisdom on the issue and establish that not all “social issues” are viewed the same. Indeed, only 16% of young voters preferred that abortion be legal in all cases, while 32% said abortion should be legal “up to a certain point.” Combined, that comprises 48% who take a position leaning toward legality. On the other side, 37% felt abortion should be illegal with exceptions, and 14% thought abortion should always be illegal, making a combined 51% who lean toward prohibiting abortion. On this issue, there is small gender divide, with men in the survey actually tending to lean more pro-choice than women.
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Where the Republican Party runs into trouble with young voters on the abortion issue is not necessarily in being pro-life. On the contrary, the Democratic Party’s position of pushing for abortion to be legal in all cases and at all times, including some recent laws around how to handle medical care for babies born alive during abortion procedures, is what is outside the norm of where young voters stand. Unfortunately for the GOP, the Republican Party has been painted – both by Democrats and by unhelpful voices in our own ranks – as holding the most extreme anti-abortion position (that it should be prohibited in all cases). Furthermore, the issue of protecting life has been conflated with issues around the definition of rape, funding for Planned Parenthood, and even contraception.
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It is true that there are some young men and women who are strongly pro-choice and say they would have a very hard time voting for a Republican candidate who took the pro-life position. Yet it may not be the case that remaining silent on the issue is the best course of action for Republicans, nor is
shifting away from being pro-life. The challenge is to be mindful of ways that the issue of abortion branches (or can be distorted by opponents) into other policy areas where the GOP does not enjoy the same level of support.