No one really knows what Americans think about abortion

Polling giants Gallup and Pew annually ask the question, “Do you think abortion should be legal in all cases, legal in most cases, illegal in most cases, or illegal in all cases?” And every year they receive similar numbers in response. But Ipsos found that once you dig into those answers, the views get much more complex and contradictory.

Beekman and Ipsos recently conducted a study examining how difficult it is to gather people’s real feelings on abortion. They found, for example, that changing only one word in a question — “should abortion be legal” versus “should abortion remain legal” — could often result in opposite answers. They also found that asking people questions about what they think of specific abortion laws — common questions in some of the most cited polling by nonpartisan research organizations — often had little bearing on how those people actually felt about abortion itself, or on how they vote.

The Students for Life poll is a prime example. “We all know that a poll is only as good as the way questions are worded,” Matt Lamb, the group’s communications director told BuzzFeed News. “This poll shows when there are clearly defined questions, such as support for specific legislation or specific limits that people take the pro-life position.”