The “Intensity Gap”: Our Young Voters Verses Theirs

22 Aug

Last April when Newsweek published an article that asked, “How can the next generation defend abortion rights when they don’t think abortion rights need defending?” the feminist blogosphere exploded in anger.

“I’m sick of working so hard on behalf of a movement that continues to insist that we don’t exist,” wrote Jessica Valenti on Feministing. Steph Herold, founder of this very blog, recently said she created AbortionGang in part as a response to Newsweek’s article. I could cite blog after blog that wasn’t very happy with either Newsweek or NARAL.

Which is a shame, because what NARAL was trying to talk about is something all of us in the pro-choice movement need to be concerned with. The other side does care more than we do. Or at least their voters do. The statement about the next generation not defending abortion wasn’t about our activists. It was about the vast swath of voters under age 30 who are pro-choice or moderately pro-choice but not at all concerned about losing their rights.

I will say that NARAL’s handling of the poll they commissioned by Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research was an absolute fiasco. They wanted to counter some recent polling released by Gallup and Pew Research Center that suggested a softening of the public towards legal abortion. As you might expect, their poll, which focused on those under 30, found that the majority of the country still supports legal abortion but that “younger people are solidly pro-choice, though there is more intensity among anti-choice young people than prochoice young people.”

Translation: Under 30 pro-choice voters were more openly accepting of pro-life Democrats than pro-life Republicans were of politicians who were pro-choice.

NARAL shared with me some PowerPoint slides of their polling and it highlights what they call the “intensity gap” between pro-choice voters (ages 18-29) and anti-choice voters of the same age. When asked “In making a voting decision, how important is the issue of abortion for you when deciding how to vote–very important, somewhat important, not very important or not at all important” 51 percent of the anti-choice voters said it was “very important.” But only 26 percent of the pro-choice voters said the same.

Around the time of the Newsweek article I talked to a few of my pro-choice friends who aren’t activists. I would define an activist as anyone who does anything — phone-banking, donating money, sending an email to a politician, or writing for the web – on behalf of pro-choice rights. But we all know there are a lot of people who vote solid pro-choice in November but don’t pay attention to the issue at any other time. Some of those people are my friends.

To be fair, this was a small circle of white (I’ll be honest), urban, and middle-class women. But what I found out was they don’t really think their right to an abortion is at risk. And you know what? They might just be right. If you are the kind of person who can afford to take up to two days off from work, live in an urban area, and could potentially gather $1000 in an emergency (perhaps from family), then your access to an abortion probably isn’t at risk.

State restrictions on abortion are far more common than federal, and abortion clinics tend to be located in the most populous cities of any state. Which is where a heck of a lot of pro-choice voters are located.

I’m very concerned about motivating pro-choice voters to activism without using the threat of “abortion will be outlawed.” It may become unavailable in some states, but if voters on “our side” assume it will be available to them somewhere (perhaps in the big city they live in) then how do we convince them to be concerned?

NARAL is trying to garner focus on the state-sponsored attempts to restrict access and reach out to youth with their Vision to Win campaign. Is the movement doing enough? I don’t know. But I know that I’ll probably always be able to get an abortion should I need it because I have the resources and the geographic proximity. The question is will everyone?

One Response to “The “Intensity Gap”: Our Young Voters Verses Theirs”


  1. Tweets that mention The “Intensity Gap”: Our Young Voters Verses Theirs | Abortion Gang -- - August 22, 2010

    […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Swarm for Life, ManDuh, Zoë Barth-Werb, Stacey Burns, NNAF Abortion Funds and others. NNAF Abortion Funds said: If you have resources, access to abortion isn't an issue. Is that why it doesn't matter at election time? […]

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