For all the fierce debates on the issue of abortion in Alaska — time spent discussing the ethics of it, various surveys put out by groups on both sides of the issue, legislative debates, political careers lost and found – relatively little is known about what the public thinks about the issue.
We do, however, know generally where our politicians stand. We know, with a few exceptions, that Republican politicians are pro-life. A handful, including our governor, are so extreme that they oppose even in the case of incest and rape. Dems, generally, are pro-choice and a small number are so extreme that they wouldn’t have support restrictions whatever on the procedure.
We also know that come election time, even the moderate Republicans tend to veer right on the issue, and some, Dems, though fewer and fewer, veer left.
So it came as kind of a surprise to me at least that the public was startlingly more pro-choice than their elected state representatives appear to be.
A 2009 poll was the last big one that I could find on the issue. In that poll, Celinda Lake, who is Sen. Mark Begich’s pollster, was hired by Planned Parenthood to poll 675 likely registered voters in the state. The poll found that 58 percent of Alaskans could be categorized as pro-choice, while only 37 percent could be classified as pro-life. (The full findings are below, as are the definitions of pro-life and pro-choice.) These numbers appeared to be in the ballpark according to local pollsters.
That said, you’ll find very few politicians in the state highlighting their pro-choice views. Begich, for instance, is pro-choice and he doesn’t shy away from saying as much, but you’ll likely not find mass mailings or TV commercials touting his stance. Ditto for Sen. Lisa Murkowski.
And until relatively recently, the other side kept relatively silent too. Marc Hellenthal, an Alaska based pollster who works mostly for Republicans, says that the first television commercial that he recalls seeing touching on the issue was one released by Gov. Sean Parnell in 2008, who then was lieutenant governor and was running against Rep. Don Young. That commercial was attacking Young for his support for embryonic stem cell research, which is a pro-life dog whistle.
However, Hellenthal believes that the pro-lifers have been emboldened enough by their recent successes in electing state pro-life state legislators, and with their successes nationally, that they will be more visible in the upcoming election. The pro-lifers believe that being pro-choice in Alaska will likely lose you a lot more votes than you’ll be able to make up, he said.
In other words, the issue, for those who support abortion rights, is a losing one, in Hellenthal’s estimation, anyway. And he thinks that those who are running against Begich will use it effectively against him.
“The pro-choice movement is just not as sophisticated as the other side,” he said.
Here’s the full findings from the Planned Parenthood poll:
1. Abortions should be legal and generally available and subject to only limited regulation: 28%
2. Regulation of abortion is necessary, although it should remain legal in many circumstances: 30%
3. Abortion should be legal only in the most extreme cases, such as to save the life of the woman or in cases of rape and incest: 28%
4. All abortions should be made illegal: 8%
5. Don’t know: 5%
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