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The Pulse

Abortion: survey of voters



Abortion has become a visible and controversial issue in Illinois. In October, Richard Day Research conducted interviews with over 3,800 registered voters in 19 legislative districts in Illinois on behalf of Planned Parenthood. The most decisive finding was that Illinois voters preferred that the decision of whether to have an abortion should be left to a woman and her doctor, and not to government. If one averaged the results from the 19 districts, 81 percent said a woman and her doctor should make the decision, compared to 10 percent who believed that government should make it.


1. Who should make decision?

      Woman and doctor
2. Which Supreme Court decision?
      1973 decision
      1989 decision
3. Illinois ballot issue
4. Support candidate who
      Supports keeping abortion legal
      Opposes keeping abortion legal
      Not sure
5. Government health insurance for abortion.

These 19 surveyed districts were representative of all portions of the state: Three districts were in Chicago, two in suburban Cook County, four in the suburban collar counties and 10 downstate. The districts were selected by Planned Parenthood based on incumbents it considered to be fence-sitters on the issue (see "Districts" box). Each respondent was asked five questions about abortion. (The exact wording for each is shown in the "Questions" box; the results, which are averages of the responses of the 19 districts, are shown in the "Answers" box. The margin of error for all 3,800 interviewed is plus or minus 2 percent.)

When asked about the U.S. Supreme Court's 1973 Roe v. Wade decision and its 1989 Webster decision, an average of 66 percent of respondents said they preferred the 1973 decision, which allowed women the right to choose, and an average of 28 percent preferred the 1989 decision, which allowed individual states to place restrictions on abortion.

When asked how they would vote if they had an opportunity on a statewide ballot to choose between keeping abortion legal and making it illegal, respondents were not offered any "middle ground." Those who were initially unsure or who said "legal sometimes" were asked again to choose between the two options. On average, 65 percent said they would vote to keep abortion legal in the state, compared to 30 percent who said they would vote to make it illegal.

We also asked how the abortion issue would affect the respondents' voting for candidates. We offered a choice between two hypothetical candidates who agreed with the respondent on most of the issues he or she cared about. The candidates differed only on their abortion stands — one was in favor of keeping abortion legal, and one was in favor of making it illegal. Presented with this scenario, on average, 53; percent chose the pro-choice candidate, compared to 29 percent who chose the


  1. Do you think the decision of whether or not to have an abortion should be made by the woman and her doctor or by government?
  2. As you may know, in 1973 the U.S. Supreme Court said a woman has a right to an abortion if she chooses. In 1989, the U.S. Supreme Court changed that decision, and said that each individual state may place restrictions on a woman's right to have an abortion. Which Supreme Court ruling do you favor?
  3. If there were a ballot issue in Illinois to decide whether abortion should be legal or not, would you vote to keep abortion legal, or would you vote to make it illegal?
  4. Suppose that, in an election, the two candidates agree with you on most issues you care about. However, one of these candidates supports keeping abortion legal, and the other opposes abortion being legal. Would you vote for the candidate who supports keeping abortion legal or vote for the candidate who opposed abortion being legal?
  5. As you may know, the government provides health insurance for poor women. In your opinion, should abortion be included in this coverage, or not?

December 1989 | Illinois Issues | 30


Senate 17, Chicago south side, Emil Jones Jr. (D); Senate 20, DuPage County, Beverly Fawell (R); Senate 32, McHenry County, Jack Schaffer (R); Senate 36, Quad Cities, Denny Jacobs (D); Senate 37, Whiteside County, Calvin W. Schuneman (R); Senate 42, Joliet, Thomas A. Dunn (D); Senate 45, central Illinois; Robert Madigan (R); Senate 48, Adams County, Laura L. Kent Donahue (R); House 6, Chicago north side, Bruce A. Farley (D); House 9, Chicago Humboldt Park, Miguel A. Santiago (D); House 49, northwest Cook County, Terry R. Parke (R); House 62, Lake County, Robert W. Churchill (R); House 76, DeKalb County, John Countryman (R); House 77, south Cook County, Frank Giglio (D); House 93, Peoria, David R. Leitch (R); House 97, Jacksonville area, Tom Ryder (R); House 100, Sangamon/Christian counties, Karen Hasara (R); House 105, Danville area, William B. Black (R); and House 118, southern Illinois, including Cairo, David D. Phelps (D).

pro-life candidate. In none of the 19 districts did a majority choose the pro-life candidate.

The most divisive result in the survey was on the question of whether abortions should be covered by government health insurance. In six of the 19 districts, a majority supported Medicaid coverage for abortion; in eight of the 19 a majority opposed that coverage. On average, 44 percent supported Medicaid coverage and 46 percent opposed it.

Analyzing the differences among the 19 districts, we found that districts with a higher proportion of younger, educated and high-income voters (primarily the suburban Cook County, collar county and "college town" districts) were the most likely to be pro-choice. Those districts with higher proportions of elderly, lower income and less educated respondents (primarily the downstate districts) were less likely to be pro-choice. However, a majority supported the legality of abortion in all but one district.

The predominate theme that emerges from this survey is that abortion is a highly personal issue that should not be left in government hands.□

Richard Day has his own survey research firm, Richard Day Research, in Evanston. He holds a Ph.D. from the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana.

December 1989 | Illinois Issues | 31

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