Susan B. Anthony List’s Problematic Polls

Andrea Lynch

Hillary, women just don't love you, insists the Susan B. Anthony List. But read the organization's own polls and find a different story.

Listen up, Hillary Clinton, because the Susan B. Anthony List has a bracing message for you: "Women just don't love you." Or so says the anti-abortion SBA List's latest press release, based on a national telephone survey of 600 women voters, and dutifully reprinted nearly word for word by the likes of LifeSiteNews. The actual poll-also available on the SBA List's website-tells a rather different story. But between exposing the godlessness of Harry Potter, defending itself from angry readers, and breathlessly covering Schwarzenegger-related marriage hysteria, I'm sure the crack reporting team over at LifeSite is far too busy to check its sources-especially when press releases come from places with as much anti-abortion cred as the SBA List, whose mission, after all, is "to end abortion in this country." Copy, cut, paste.

Such politically motivated research merits a closer look, however, especially when it's commissioned by an organization that once released the following public service announcement (listen here):

Abortion has been allowed in both Canada and the U.S. for over 30 years. During that period there has been a 40 percent increase in breast cancer. Two Canadian lawmakers say that may not be complete proof there is an abortion-breast cancer link, but it's certainly worth looking into. Unfortunately, their call for an investigation is already meeting opposition. The Canadian Cancer Society and pro-abortion groups deny the link's existence. But the facts are the facts. Twenty-three studies have found that abortion increases breast cancer by 30 percent.

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I guess the super-partisan National Cancer Institute and American Cancer Society must have ignored those 23 studies when they concluded, after exhaustive research reviews on the subject, that there was absolutely no link between abortion and breast cancer. American Values seems like a much more reliable source of evidence-based conclusions. Wait a second, I was born just over 30 years ago. Since that time, there has been a 40 percent increase in breast cancer. Does that mean that I cause breast cancer? It may not be conclusive proof, but someone should probably fund a study anyway. To SBA, these facts are just the facts, after all.

I'm not quoting the SBA's PSA to debunk the abortion-causes-breast-cancer myth yet again, but rather to point out that for a list whose stated goal is to "dispel the myths about abortion," abortion myth promotion seems to be slightly higher on their list of priorities. Other PSAs from the SBA List claim that emergency contraception causes abortions (false), that the abortion pill is dangerous (false), and that abortion is emotionally scarring (false). There's a common theme here: manipulating research to promote your political agenda.

Which brings us to the SBA List's recent research on Hillary Clinton and women voters. Here's how their press release summarizes what we can conclude from the poll:

  • Among women voters, [Hillary Clinton's] support is underwhelming at best.
  • Hillary's positions on abortion [are] at odds with a majority of American women.
  • Hillary lacks the "charisma and natural charm of her spouse," and the number of women who regard her as "personable" was less than the margin of error [+/- 4%].

All right, let's start with the first point-that women hate Hillary Clinton. SBA List President Marjorie Dannenfelser cautions, "Considering how miserably Clinton does among male voters, she should be concerned that the ‘sisterhood' is not rallying to her side either." Dannenfelser bases this assumption (the second one, not the first one, which is totally unsourced) on the fact that only "Forty percent of women polled said they could conceivably vote for Hillary in '08." But here are some relevant results from the actual poll:

  • When poll participants were asked if they had a "favorable" or "unfavorable" opinion of Hillary Clinton, 56% described their opinion as "favorable" (33% said "strongly favorable" and 23% said "somewhat favorable").
  • Of the 60% of poll participants who disagreed with the statement "I would vote for Hillary Clinton as the first woman president in 2008," only 30% had a specific problem with Hillary Clinton. The remaining 30% either were not comfortable with the idea of a woman president, or weren't sure.
  • In a subsequent question, only 30% of poll participants said they would "definitely vote against Hillary Clinton for president no matter who she is running against." Of the remaining 70%, 22% said they would definitely vote for Clinton no matter who she is running against, 27% said they would probably vote for her but it depended on her opponent, 15% said they would probably vote against her but it depended on her opponent, and 5% either didn't know or refused to answer.

Hardly a death knell from the "sisterhood," if you ask me, especially considering the political diversity of the participants (36% were Republicans), and the stage we're at in the election cycle. But let's move on.

The SBA List press release also claims that Hillary Clinton's views on abortion are "out of step with the majority of women voters." Here's a sample of how they arrived at this conclusion: 27% of poll participants said that they would be "less likely" to vote for a candidate who "voted against a law which would have banned late-term abortion in the eighth or ninth month, also called ‘Partial-Birth Abortion.'" Reality check: this sentence does not describe the Federal Abortion Ban signed into law in 2003 and upheld by the Supreme Court in 2007. So all we can really conclude is that 27% of poll participants would be less likely to vote for Hillary Clinton if she had voted for a law that doesn't exist. More important, the relevance of this claim to the SBA List's wider conclusion that women don't support Hillary Clinton is questionable in itself, since only 35% of poll participants said they were "unlikely to vote for a candidate for President of the United States who did not share your view on abortion," with a full 59% saying that they would vote for a candidate who did not share their view on abortion. Read your own poll, ladies.

In another interesting abortion-related tidbit that never made it into the press release, a full 49% of poll participants said they were more likely to vote for someone who is "pro-choice on abortion," with only 40% saying they were less likely, and 6% saying it made no difference. But I guess if the SBA List had included that piece of information, it might have undermined their attempts to dispel the "myth" that American women are pro-choice. Research is meant to confirm your agenda, not complicate it, after all.

Finally, the SBA List press release claims (in a tone more worthy of an etiquette manual than a piece of policy analysis) that women voters feel that Hillary Clinton lacks the "charisma and natural charm" of her husband, and that she is not "personable." Putting aside the irony of a conservative, anti-abortion PAC singing Bill Clinton's praises, let's see where the SBA List unearthed that conclusion. Poll participants were asked to choose one positive adjective that best represented Hillary Clinton from the following list: intelligent, experienced, decisive, charismatic, personable, and funny. Seventy-six percent of participants went with intelligent, experienced, or decisive, which explains the low charisma and personability ratings. Good thing she's running for President of the United States and not party hostess!

It also turns out, according to the SBA List, that even though over two-thirds of poll participants called Hillary "intelligent," "experienced," or "decisive," they still really just consider her to be an appendage on her super-charismatic husband. As the press release expounds:

Perhaps most damaging to the legitimacy of Clinton's candidacy was when women were asked to cite anything that comes to mind when they think of Hillary Clinton. Twenty-eight percent said, "she was married to Bill Clinton." And only 6% cited any policy position of hers. "This finding is a major blow to feminists who would agree that a woman should be elected to the White House on her own merits," added Dannenfelser.

Actually, poll respondents were asked to say the first thing that came to mind when they thought of Hillary Clinton. Forty-one percent listed positive impressions, and 35% listed negative ones. Twenty-eight percent said something about Bill. Twenty percent associated her with being a woman, or with being a woman president, 7% cited her job description (current senator, presidential candidate, etc.), 6% named specific issues or issue positions, and 5% had other miscellaneous responses. In case you've stopped counting, that adds up to 142%, because people were allowed to say more than one thing. Is it any wonder that 28% of respondents mentioned Hillary's ex-president husband among their (multiple) associations?

These last conclusions-that Hillary Clinton isn't charming enough to be president, and that she has no accomplishments of her own-are what irk me most about the way in which the SBA List has presented the results of their poll. It's frustrating that they misrepresented their own research, but in a way, it's to be expected. What's truly maddening is the manipulation of certain results to undermine Clinton's legitimacy (suggesting that she'll always be Mrs. Bill to Americans), and the conversion of legitimately scary findings (nearly one quarter of women voters still aren't ready for a woman president?) into good, old-fashioned Hillary bashing (women voters just hate Hillary). Organizations dedicated to increasing women's political participation on both sides of the aisle should be condemning this kind of thinking, not promoting it-or, in the SBA List's case, cooking it up. Susan B. Anthony may have been pro-life, but I think she'd have stronger words for that kind of analysis.

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Reproductive rights are a public health issue. That's a fact.

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