Reproductive rights and the power of the secret ballot
Going into the polls yesterday, there was strong reason to worry that Misssippi voters would vote to amend their constitution to declare fertilized eggs to be “persons”. After all, a slight majority of voters favored the ballot initiative going in. And the people who strongly favorited it, basically white Republicans, are the ones who are sadly more likely to vote, especially in an off-year election. Still, seeing that 11% of voters were undecided gave me reason to hope. On a lot of issues, undecideds can break even, but on reproductive rights, they tend to break pro-choice. By a lot.
It’s not something I’ve ever seen an extensive study on, but the folk wisdom of pro-choice circles is “pro-life in the streets, pro-choice in the dark”, as it were. In other words, there’s an intense amount of pressure to identify as “pro-life” in conservative communities, even if you secretly disagree. To be vocally pro-choice is to be marked as a pervert and a feminist, and so it’s avoided, to the point where some polling data suggests that half of people who identify as “pro-life” are actually pro-choice, at least to some extent. Certainly enough that they’re not willing to see women thrown in jail for having miscarriages. Because of this intense social pressure, I suspect many people who side with pro-choicers on this law or that law won’t say so to a pollster over the phone. Not only are you admitting out loud something that can get you marked as a “pervert” in your community, you may be doing so in front of friends, colleagues, or family members who overhear your conversation with the pollster. No wonder so many people say they’re “undecided”. But when you actually have your ballot in hand and you know that no one will ever find out how you voted, a solid percentage of voters go with common sense (and with sex!) instead of prevailing community pressures. Frankly, the way the poll numbers turned out, it appears many people who said they would vote yes on 26 instead voted no.
I’m not just talking out of my ass on this, either. This happened before in South Dakota, when they tried to ban abortion both in 2006 and 2008. In 2008, the polling numbers going into election day weren’t looking good for pro-choicers: 44-44 with 12% undecided. Again, you have the same problem of better turnout for more anti-choice demographic groups, as well. But when the ballots were finally counted, the abortion ban saw a surprisingly heavy defeat, 55-45. Seems like a combination of all the undecideds breaking pro-choice and more than a few people lying abou their views to pollsters.
Read the rest of this post at Pandagon.