Date of Award
Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
Michael Binford - Chair
Measuring public opinion on abortion is an ongoing concern for political scientists, mainly because the public does not always exhibit fixed attitudes on such topics. Most citizens express a centrist viewpoint between the pro choice and pro life extremes. These include a small group whose answers to abortion questions are so inconsistent that they give public officials an inaccurate measure of public opinion on this important issue. Inconsistent responses may result from context effects, such as the order in which the questions are asked or the way they are asked. Usually, researchers ask a battery of questions in which respondents say whether they approve of abortion generally and under a variety of circumstances, citing the reasons for which a woman might seek an abortion. This project includes an independent national survey using questions adopted from the General Social Survey. The sample is divided into four experimental groups with different question orders. Based on these findings, the recommended question order would be the one with the general question last and the remaining specific questions in a somewhat random pattern alternating between the so-called “hard” and “easy” individual abortion situations. One of the more surprising findings is that people didn’t recognize themselves as subtracting the specific situations from the general question when it was asked first; hardly any said that was what they were doing when they gave inconsistent answers. Otherwise, about an equal number of respondents admitted answering the questions off the top of their heads as those who showed ambivalence by claiming they were deeply committed to their inconsistent responses. The study found most people who inconsistent on abortion are moderates leaning towards pro choice. Also, politically conservative regular church-goers can be just as inconsistent on abortion as the non-religious, non-political, low-educated non-church goers, especially if they are basically pro choice. Without a full understanding of who is generating inconsistent answers on abortion, some researchers may be tempted to eliminate these respondents from their sample. This research should allow them to understand these respondents better and develop better question wording and question orders to reduce their numbers.
Carlson, Carolyn S., "Context Effects on Abortion Questions: Who is Inconsistent" (2006). Political Science Dissertations. Paper 1.