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  • Wash. Post falls for anti-choice talking points and spin on abortion polling

    Blog ››› ››› JULIE TULBERT


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    The Washington Post attempted to explore millennials’ supposed support for abortion restrictions after 20 weeks, but instead pushed anti-choice talking points and failed to account for the intricacies and challenges of producing accurate polling on abortion.

    On January 29, the U.S. Senate failed to pass a bill that would have banned abortions after 20-weeks of pregnancy -- a bill that is based on the scientifically unsound premise that fetuses feel pain by 20 weeks. The Washington Post published an article on January 31 that claimed the bill’s failure “may have offended” a demographic group “both parties are highly interested in winning: millennial voters.” The Post argued that millennials “view later-term abortions differently than abortions overall” by pointing to a Quinnipiac poll from January 2017 that allegedly showed “nearly half — 49 percent — of 18- to 34-year-olds said they would support” a 20-week abortion ban, but that the same group polled at only 9 percent support for the complete outlawing of abortion.

    Accordingly, the Post zeroed in the outrage of younger anti-abortion activists about the failed bill, explaining that the outlet thought that was where “some of the loudest criticism” was originating from. To support this, the Post pointed to a tweet from Lila Rose, the founder of the anti-abortion group Live Action and comments by Kristan Hawkins, the president of Students for Life of America (SFLA). Hawkins told the Post, “For those Senators who voted against the bill, millennials will be asking how they can embrace such an inhumane procedure for infants who soon can survive outside the womb, and the pro-life generation will hold them accountable.” The article concluded, “The culture battle over abortion is not over — and will continue with the youngest generation of voters.”

    The Post published the anti-abortion talking points of Hawkins and Rose without providing any opposing viewpoints -- giving them free reign to advance their assertions. Beyond quoting Hawkins and Rose, some media outlets have given them a platform to repeat their disingenuous narrative that millennials do not support abortion rights and will ultimately be the group that successfully outlaws abortion. Abortion opponents like Hawkins and Rose often point to polling to support their assertions that millennials, and Americans in general, either want to restrict or completely ban abortion after 20 weeks. Although, the Post and many outlets may attempt to objectively explore Americans' opinions on abortion access, when they do so by relying on decontextualized polling data, such pieces can easily slip into a flawed framing that misrepresents the range of opinions on this topic.

    Polling on abortion should be nuanced and not rely on narrow categories or labels

    As Vox’s Sarah Kliff explained, although “abortion usually gets framed as a two-sided debate” that “Americans support abortion rights, or they don’t,” people “don’t live in this world of absolutes.” Kliff stated that “what most discourse [about abortion] misses is the nuance — the personal factors and situations that influence how each individual thinks about the issue.” Indeed, as Tresa Undem, co-founder and partner at PerryUndem -- a public-opinion research firm -- wrote for Vox, her experience as a researcher and pollster demonstrated to her that on abortion, “the current polling fails at accurately measuring opinion on this complex issue.” According to Undem, most “standard measures” that firms and outlets use across the spectrum “to report the public’s views on abortion ... don’t capture how people really think” about the issue:

    The standard measures ask respondents about when or in what cases abortion should be legal. The question wording and response categories vary across pollsters. But when collapsed into two categories — legal and illegal — you tend to get a divided public.

    [...]

    When it comes to "real life" views on the issue — how people actually experience abortion — the numbers get even more intriguing. Among people who said abortion should only be legal in rare cases, 71 percent said they would give support to a close friend or family member who had an abortion, 69 percent said they want the experience of having an abortion to be nonjudgmental, 66 percent said they want the experience to be supportive, 64 percent want the experience to be affordable, and 59 percent want the experience to be without added burdens.

    [...]

    We need to ask questions about how the public views abortion policy — but do so in a more real and accurate way. We shouldn’t, for example, simply ask "Do you support or oppose recent restrictions to abortion?" when we know most people aren’t aware of any trend or what the restrictions might be.

    Kliff's and Undem's criticisms of standard polling methodologies should greatly influence how outlets interpret and deploy the findings of polling about abortion. For example, the Quinnipiac poll cited by the Post gave respondents a limiting set of categories to express whether they support legal abortion or not; those categories were whether abortion should be “legal in all cases,” “legal in most cases,” “illegal in most cases,” or “illegal in all cases.” As one public opinion research specialist told ThinkProgress, these categories and reductive labels, such as 'pro-life' or 'pro-choice,' “are ‘very superficial,’ particularly because researchers have known for quite some time that the ‘pro-choice’ and ‘pro-life’ labels don’t accurately reflect the American public’s complicated attitudes about abortion.” Indeed, Vox found that when polls gave people options beyond selecting just ‘pro-life’ or ‘pro-choice,’ “about four in 10 Americans” rejected the binary labels, including 18 percent who chose both.

    Vox’s polling also found that Americans have a variety of misunderstandings about the actual realities of abortion, including the prevalence of abortion (they think it’s rarer than it is) and whether the procedure is safe (they inaccurately think it’s more dangerous than it is). Vox suggested that polling about specific laws restricting abortion access could be misleading if questions do not provide an explanation for what those laws entail. For example, before the Supreme Court decided Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt in 2016, only 15 percent of people polled had heard about the case, but when a polling question explained that the law in dispute led to abortions clinics being closed in Texas, 65 percent respondents said the law put “an undue burden on women who are seeking an abortion.”

    Thus, giving people static categories to choose from to express their opinions about abortion -- particularly ones that are divorced from “how people actually experience” the procedure -- leads to misleading findings that are often misused by outlets, intentionally or not.

    Polling on support for 20-week abortion ban should reflect individualized reasoning for access to later abortions

    Right-wing media frequently push the idea that the majority of Americans support a 20-week abortion ban -- often relying on polling as evidence of their claims. However, just as questions asked in narrow categories often fail to accurately reflect Americans’ actual opinions on abortion access, polling that merely asks whether people support a 20-week ban similarly misrepresents public opinion on the matter in a way that unduly bolsters right-wing and anti-abortion claims.

    There’s a drastic drop in support for 20-week bans when people realize that abortions in later stages of pregnancy are often undertaken out of medical necessity or for particular personal circumstances. For example, a Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health study on the Zika virus found that when asked in the abstract about later abortion, “less than a quarter of people (23%) believe women should have access to a legal abortion after 24 weeks.” However, that flipped when people were asked about access to a later abortion when a pregnant person had been infected with the Zika virus -- with results showing “a majority of Americans (59%) believe a woman should have access to a legal abortion after 24 weeks” in that situation.

    In other words, as Hart Research Associates found, “Once voters consider the range of circumstances in which abortions would be made illegal under most 20-week abortion ban proposals, a majority of Americans oppose them.” Polling by PerryUndem also showed that people believe that the the power to decide when to have an abortion should be with the woman, her doctor, and the larger medical community -- and not determined by politicians.

    Reporting on abortion polling should reflect that individuals support abortions access because of the reality that people obtain abortions for a variety of personal reasons -- and that when polling considers the specifics of a person’s experience, respondents are far more likely to support greater access to abortion care.

    Media should avoid the dangerous strategy of incompletely reporting on abortion viewpoints, oversimplifying (whether intentionally or not) public opinion polling, or propping up figures who self-servingly tout this talking point, as the Post’s January 31 article ultimately did.

  • Guide to right-wing media myths and facts about the Senate health care bill

    ››› ››› DINA RADTKE & NICK FERNANDEZ

    Right-wing media figures are trying to curry favor for the Better Care Reconciliation Act (BCRA) by attacking the Affordable Care Act (ACA), pushing lies about the BCRA, disparaging the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO) or distorting its analysis of the legislation, and muddying the truth about the health care system in general. Here is a guide to the myths right-wing media are employing to sell the Senate Republican health care bill.

  • Experts Explain How GOP Repeal Of The ACA Will Hurt Americans

    ››› ››› CAT DUFFY

    Cable networks have hosted a variety of health care experts to discuss the negative impact that the Republican health care bill and repeal of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) will have on different aspects of the American health care system, including coverage, health care costs, Medicaid, and women’s health care.

  • PolitiFact’s Month-Old Rating Of Baldwin Statement Relies Too Heavily On GOP Talking Points 

    ››› ››› CAT DUFFY

    PolitiFact Wisconsin rated Sen. Tammy Baldwin’s (D-WI) month-old claim that the GOP is “organizing to take people’s health care away” mostly false, claiming that while the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) found that “repeal of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) could result in millions of people losing their health insurance,” the office did not consider the impact of an expected GOP replacement plan. In reality, the GOP has yet to produce a consensus replacement plan, thus giving the CBO nothing to rate, and all existing plans that Republicans have put forward would strip coverage from millions. 

  • 5 Questions CNN Should Ask During The Sanders-Cruz Obamacare Debate

    Blog ››› ››› CAT DUFFY

    Moderators Jake Tapper and Dana Bash should utilize the February 7 CNN debate between Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and Ted Cruz (R-TX) on “the future of Obamacare” to ask targeted questions about the GOP’s plans to replace the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and how that will affect the American health care system. As CNN’s town hall with House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) demonstrated, these forums can serve as opportunities to fact-check misinformation, but they can also fail to substantively engage on specific policy issues. Moderators should be prepared to pose specific questions to Cruz, the representative for “the viewpoint of President Trump and the Republican party,” on distinct policies proposed by the GOP to repeal and replace the ACA.

    While there is no shortage of important questions about the negative impacts of repealing the ACA on Medicare, job growth, LGBTQ equality, the budget deficit, and mental health care services, moderators must prioritize the subjects they can address in the time allotted. Here are five of the most important questions that CNN should ask Cruz in tonight’s debate.

    1. Will The GOP Replacement Cover As Many People As The ACA, Which Has Reduced The Number Of Uninsured Americans By More Than 20 Million People? 

    Implementation of the ACA has resulted in a record low number of uninsured Americans -- merely 8.6 percent in June 2016, down from over 16 percent in 2010. Numerous reports have noted that Republican politicians continue to obfuscate about whether their replacement for the ACA would cover as many people as Obamacare does, likely because none of their proposed policies would. Vox’s Sarah Kliff analyzed the existing replacement plans and found that all of them would reduce coverage, with the number of people impacted ranging by between 3 million and 21 million people.

    Given that Cruz himself dodged this question during a 2016 Republican presidential primary debate, this new venue provides a unique opportunity to press the senator on whether the Republican replacement will maintain existing coverage levels.

    2. Will The Replacement Plan Rescind ACA Provisions That Pertain To Women’s Health, Like The Contraception Mandate, The Prohibition On Gender Rating, And The Sex Discrimination Ban? 

    Congressional Republicans, including President Donald Trump’s nominee to lead the Department of Health and Human Services, Tom Price (R-GA), have publicly opposed some ACA provisions regarding women’s health care. As CBS News noted, the debate over the ACA resurrects the risk of “a return to higher premiums for women” and “gaps in coverage for birth control and breast pumps.” The ACA also banned discriminatory practices, like sex discrimination and gender rating, while significantly reducing out-of-pocket costs for women’s birth control.

    Tapper and Bash should ask about the future of women’s health care, making sure to reference the specific gains made by the ACA to prevent generic answers that dodge the question.

    3. Can You Guarantee That Medicaid Block Grants Won’t Result In Benefit Cuts For Recipients?

    One of the leading GOP proposals for reforming the health care system revolves around changing Medicaid’s funding structure to a block grant system, which caps the amount of funding a state receives from the federal government. While conservatives typically discuss block grant proposals in terms of allowing states to “innovate,” in reality, most block grant proposals shift Medicaid costs to the states, which would cause chaos on state budgets and force draconian cuts in services covered by Medicaid.

    Under the ACA, the Medicaid expansion extended health insurance to millions of low-income Americans, making a discussion of proposed changes a necessity during the debate.

    4. How Is It Possible For An ACA Replacement To Keep Popular Parts Of The Law, Like The Ban On Denying Coverage To Those With Pre-Existing Conditions, While Also Eliminating The Individual Mandate? 

    Numerous conservatives, including Trump, have pledged to keep certain parts of the ACA, like the ban on denying coverage to people with pre-existing conditions and the provision that allows young adults to remain on their parents’ insurance until age 26. But they simultaneously promise to get rid of other provisions, like the individual mandate and the varied taxes, which provide the revenue to fund the popular parts of the law.

    As New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof wrote, it’s “impossible” to keep certain popular provisions “while eliminating unpopular parts,” because the “good and the bad depend on each other.” This tension is a central fault line in discussions about the ACA and should be a central theme in CNN’s town hall.

    5. Given The Terrible Track Record Of High-Risk Pools, Would Resurrecting Such A System Simply Repeat The Mistakes Of The Past? 

    One of the few specific health care policies Republicans have championed in pushing to repeal and replace the ACA involves the resurrection of high-risk pools. Despite conservative attempts to repackage high-risk pools as a new idea, they have a long history of problems, as they typically are chronically underfunded, are prohibitively expensive for customers, and provide inadequate coverage. As the Los Angeles Times’ Michael Hiltzik noted, 35 states used high-risk pools prior to the implementation of the ACA’s protections for people with pre-existing conditions, and the experience was “almost universally grim.”

    Moderators should ask about high-risk pools, because they would degrade access to health care to those who are most vulnerable and need care the most.

  • Right-Wing Media Ignore Role Of Subsidies, Claim Insurance Premium Increases Are A “Death Spiral” For Obamacare 

    ››› ››› CAT DUFFY

    Reports that benchmark health insurance premiums will increase by an average of 25 percent from 2016 to 2017 for plans purchased on Healthcare.gov marketplace exchanges have prompted right-wing media outlets to claim the price hike is proof of “the collapse” of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and evidence of a so-called Obamacare “death spiral.” In reality, the majority of individual insurance customers will be insulated from cost increases due to proportional increases in the health care subsidies, and these premium increases are still in line with anticipated health care costs initially predicted by the Congressional Budget Office (CBO).