Planned Parenthood PAC released polling data to Keystone Politics that questions a lot of the stereotypes projected on the Commonwealth – most critical is the inclination that Pennsylvania voters are overwhelmingly against reproductive choices for women.
Sari Stevens, the executive director of Planned Parenthood Pennsylvania Advocates, had this to say about the poll:
“With just over six months left until the November elections, this poll demonstrates the risks associated with legislative attacks on women’s reproductive healthcare. Any political pundit will tell you that women decide elections, as they just did in the 2013 Virginia gubernatorial race, and Pennsylvania is no exception. We are thrilled to have such a strong base of support among these important segments of the voting population.”
Among 600 Pennsylvanians polled across a wide distribution of demographic qualities, 47% self-identify as “pro-choice” while only 42% self-identify as “pro-life”. The approval/disapproval numbers for Planned Parenthood as a healthcare provider further intensify the woes of the pro-life lobby – overall, 52% approve over 25% who view the organization unfavorably.
Republicans are viewed unfavorably overall in this poll – 42% of respondents disapprove of them, while only 31% approve. Democrats faired slightly better, with an even split – 40% approval/40% disapproval rating. So in a state many political analysts frame as overwhelmingly pro-life, the leading reproductive healthcare provider has an approval rating 21% higher than approval ratings for the Republican Party and 12% higher than approval ratings for the Democratic Party.
This, to me, is an indication that Planned Parenthood has educated the populace well, not only in the importance of reproductive access even if you disagree on moral grounds, but also their role as the only access point for many Pennsylvania women (and men and young people) for other important medical services, including birth control, STD screenings, and cancer screenings.*
When polled about NARAL Pro-Choice America, another advocacy organization that does similar work, the numbers were not as good – 24% approve, 18% disapprove, and 47% either cannot rate or did not hear of NARAL. Planned Parenthood has educated voters about the benefits of their work, but NARAL has not done enough within Pennsylvania to improve public perception.
I also see it as a change in demographics of the voting population. Conservative lawmakers and those who wish to limit reproductive choice face a gender gap in support as well as a backlash from young voters. Among women, 46% approve of the Democratic Party over 36% who disapprove. The Republican Party is viewed unfavorably by women: 40% disapprove over 32% who approve across Pennsylvania. Even though there are regions of the state that tend to be more “pro-life” than others, having such a huge gender gap overall will remain one of the biggest challenges Republicans face, making Governor Corbett’s path to re-election even more tenuous.
Among young voters (ages 18 – 44), Planned Parenthood is overwhelmingly viewed favorably – 60% to 21%. This same cohort of voters views the Republican Party unfavorably – 46% disapprove and only 32% approve. Had the Voter ID law prevailed, this might not have been a huge issue for Republicans, given the burden it poses on young voters to be able to actually vote. Since this law was struck down by the court, Republicans should be very concerned about these particular figures.
Especially in terms of the governor’s race, political commentators and campaign spokesmen have implied that Allyson Schwartz’s biggest liability is her self-identification as a reproductive healthcare advocate and the founder of the Elizabeth Blackwell Health Center. With numbers like these, it becomes less of a liability than before. These numbers also indicate the gross political miscalculation by Jack Wagner that running as a pro-life gubernatorial candidate was a winning strategy – not only did he have no chance of coming out favorably with the base, it’s also not necessarily what the electorate overall wants out of their next governor.
The numbers reflect an over-arching attitude that women have a right to reproductive care, even if personally one does not wish to exercise these rights. We live in a post-Roe v. Wade country and despite legislative attempts to eliminate these rights, most are thankful for this key SCOTUS decision and the rights to medical safety it affords to women.
I reported on the varying reproductive rights positions of the Democratic lieutenant governor candidates, some state legislators, and even a congressional candidate, and a few readers wrote in to tell me that my emphasis of this as a policy issue is a huge mistake for the Democratic Party’s chances. I’d first say that it isn’t my job to advocate for the the Democratic Party. It is my job to uncover stories of injustice toward cohorts of underserved people, which I believe I have been doing by writing about Act 122, a law that has resulted in the closing of five clinics, with no clear indication as to its role in keeping women safe.
I point to this poll and conclude that I was correct to report on this issue, because clearly, it does matter to voters in Pennsylvania.
*(Full disclosure: I worked for Planned Parenthood Southeastern Pennsylvania during the ACA enrollment period, helping patients and their families to get health insurance. I tend to think my former co-workers and supervisors do an incredible job, but I think these numbers actually reflect their hard work. You can let me know if you agree or disagree in the comments section.)