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Views on abortion can be hard to determine via polling, expert says

A group of people rally at the Indiana Statehouse in support of abortion rights. They're holding signs, which include the words "Abortion bans replace freedom with force" and "Safe, legal, on demand." The group of people are all looking up and shouting.
Ben Thorp
What little Indiana public polling about abortion there is available suggests a large majority of Hoosiers support at least some legal access to abortion.

Many listeners want to know what public polling in Indiana says about abortion – and whether lawmakers followed those results when crafting the state’s abortion ban.

A political scientist explains why getting an answer on abortion from polling is so difficult.

Laura Wilson, University of Indianapolis associate professor of political science, said generally, lawmakers respond to their constituents. But when it comes to polling on any issue, she said there’s often a disconnect between opinion and action.

“Many people will say generally speaking, they support something," Wilson said. "Will they vote on the basis of that? Will they write their legislator on the basis of that? Will they go to protest on the basis of that?”

Wilson said the abortion ban is unlikely to have a significant impact on this fall's elections for Statehouse seats. A major reason for that, she said, is that after the latest round of legislative redistricting last year, most seats in the General Assembly are uncompetitive in the general election.

READ MORE: Democratic leaders, candidates speak against abortion ban, hope to motivate voters for fall election

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It's primary elections that are more competitive, Wilson said – and those are more partisan and extreme.

"You might be moderately in favor or in opposition to abortion – but you don't have that option represented at the state legislature because you have more ideological extremes," Wilson said.

On abortion polling specifically, Wilson said it’s a particularly tricky issue to gauge public opinion on.

“Because there’s a lot of parameters and a lot of exceptions, explanations, context that you can add to it," Wilson said. "It’s not as simple as we often make it feel, where you’re either in support of it or against it.”

What little Indiana public polling about abortion there is available suggests a large majority of Hoosiers support at least some legal access to abortion – but exactly how much access is harder to gauge.

This story came in response to a listener's question. If you have questions about transportation in Indiana, you can text us. Sign up for the Indiana Two-Way by texting "Indiana" to 73224.

Contact reporter Brandon at bsmith@ipbs.org or follow him on Twitter at @brandonjsmith5.

Brandon Smith has covered the Statehouse for Indiana Public Broadcasting for more than a decade, spanning three governors and a dozen legislative sessions. He's also the host of Indiana Week in Review, a weekly political and policy discussion program seen and heard across the state. He previously worked at KBIA in Columbia, Missouri and WSPY in Plano, Illinois. His first job in radio was in another state capitol - Jefferson City, Missouri - as a reporter for three stations around the Show-Me State.