In recent days the Pro-Life Campaign announced that they had undertaken a poll asking people about their opinions on abortion. The PLC came to the conclusion that around 65% of people in Ireland supported a pro-life stance. However, the questions in the poll raised several eyebrows. With the poll being badly-worded and arguably leading, many people have pointed out the flaws with the poll, which goes in the face of an Ipsos MRBI poll that reports an 85% support for abortion in certain circumstances.
Eoin O’Malley gave a good analysis of how the poll questions could be picked up in different ways, and how information could be derived from the answers to suit the anti-choice stance.
But I want to discuss the questions from a different, but quite straightforward viewpoint. Simply, the questions asked cannot have a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer. Let’s take a look at the questions:
Q1. In current medical practice in Ireland, the doctor treats the expectant mother and her baby as two patients and does his/her best to safeguard both in a crisis situation. Do you consider that this practice should be protected and safeguarded by law or not?
Result: Yes: 66%. No: 15%. No Opinion: 19%
Of those who expressed an opinion 81% answered YES.
Q2. Are you in favour of, or opposed to constitutional protection for the unborn that prohibits abortion but allows the continuation of the existing practice of intervention to save a mother’s life in accordance with Irish medical ethics?
Result: Yes: 63%. No: 19%. No opinion: 18%.
Of those who expressed an opinion: 77% answered YES.
You can see that the questions are long, confusing, and clearly leading.
However, another problem with both is that they are choice questions. This is an ambiguous form of question to which you cannot properly answer yes or no in any meaningful way.
Here’s an example: “Would you like salt or vinegar on your chips?”
If you answer ‘yes’, then what are you saying yes to? Are you saying yes to salt? To vinegar? Both? The ambiguity here means that your answer should actually clarify if you want salt alone, vinegar alone, both, or neither. There is no meaningful answer if you simply reply ‘yes’ or ‘no’.
But that is exactly what the Pro-Life Campaign have done.
In Q1 the respondent is asked: Do you consider that this practice should be protected and safeguarded by law or not?
Saying ‘yes’ can means that you think it should be safeguarded, and it can mean that you think it should not.
In Q2, the question is: Are you in favour of, or opposed to constitutional protection…?
Again, saying ‘yes’ can mean that you are either in favour of it, or opposed to it.
Asking people to answer ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to an either/or question does not give any meaningful information. The only way to undertake a survey with questions like this is to provide a range of answers: a clear and unambiguous option for each opinion in the question and, where relevant, options for ‘both’ and ‘neither’.
The poll questions and their answers are meaningless, and do not provide any true insight into people’s opinions on abortion.