Nonetheless, many Republican-controlled state legislatures are passing abortion restrictions, and many Republican members of Congress would like to pass a nationwide abortion ban. How can reproductive rights advocates respond?
Our research, with Kylee Britzman and Matthew Hibbing, suggests that men can help build support for women’s rights, especially by persuading hard-to-reach people. While abortion is generally seen as a women’s issue, men aren’t far behind women in their support. PRRI poll finds 64% of women oppose reversal Roe vs. Wade while 59% of men do, just a difference of 5 percentage points. Our research suggests that these similar levels of support mean the movement’s activists could attract more supporters.
When social movements attempt to reach the public, they face at least two potential obstacles. First, the message must reach them — and second, it must persuade them.
To understand how this might work to build support for women’s rights, we recruited a sample of 1,000 people through Qualtrics’ online registration panel in January 2019, using quotas to get a representative sample of the population. American on age, sex, race, education and income. Respondents first provided information about their demographics and political views.
Then, we shared with the subjects that interested us their opinion on the MeToo movement. A fifth of participants responded directly to questions about the movement. Another fifth was randomly assigned to read a statement attributed to “Joan”, a young white woman shown in a photo, about the importance of MeToo and the need for gender equality. The remaining three-fifths of the participants had a choice: before giving us their opinion, they could choose to read what “Joan” had to say.
If they chose not to hear from “Joan”, they were then randomly assigned to one of three groups. One group read no further information on any topic. A second group saw the same statement, but attributed to another young white woman named “Jane”. A third group saw a photo of a young white man, “John”, and the same statement.
We then asked three questions designed to gauge their support for the MeToo movement, such as “The MeToo movement can sometimes go too far” and “#MeToo helps raise awareness about sexual assault, harassment and discrimination.” Using a statistical technique called principal component analysis, we combined people’s responses to these questions into a single measure, where higher values mean greater support for the MeToo movement.
Evangelicals opposed abortion long before their leaders caught up with them
Americans who don’t want to hear from a woman are a bit more open to men
Two-thirds of our respondents (67%) chose to listen to a woman deliver a message on MeToo, while around a third chose not to (33%). Generally, when people read a positive message on MeToo, they respond with increased support for the movement.
However, those who did not want to hear from the young woman responded differently from the average. They tended to have lower incomes, less education, and less familiarity with the MeToo movement. Although men and women chose to listen to a woman at similar rates, men who avoided a woman’s message exhibited a negative reaction pattern. When these men read a MeToo message from another woman, their support for MeToo decreased by about half of a standard deviation – a change roughly equivalent to a 10 to 15 point decrease on the scale of 0 to 100 of individual survey questions. The reverse happened for men who had refused to hear from a woman but had read the same message from a man: their support increased by half a standard deviation (or an increase of 10 15 points on a 100 point scale) compared to the control. group.
Some men could only hear a message about women’s rights if it came from a man. If more men stand up for women’s rights, they can help overcome some of the backlash against women who do.
What would Congress do on abortion, after Roe?
Would we find the same results about abortion — an issue on which the attitude of many Americans has hardened over the decades? It may be more difficult, but not impossible.
In the figure below, we present data from the Cooperative Congressional Election Study 2010-2014 panel survey conducted by YouGov, which asked the same people about their attitudes towards abortion in 2010, 2012 and 2014. The bars show the average percentage backing one position each. year while flows between bars trace people’s attitudes over time. While the percentage supporting each position remains stable, around a third of individuals change positions at least once. Certainly, while some are becoming more permissive, others are becoming more restrictive.
Reproductive rights advocates may want to consider how they can engage persuaded individuals to support their goals. While the message is important, our research suggests that messengers are also important. Americans tend to avoid talking about abortion. However, people who personally know someone who has had an abortion are more likely to support keeping abortion legal in all or most cases. Adding men’s voices to the chorus of support for reproductive rights can help this message reach skeptics who may be less receptive to arguments from women.
Democrats are losing white women. Would overthrowing Roe bring them back?
In other words, just as the anti-abortion movement has used women to champion this cause to the public, the reproductive rights movement can similarly deploy men to advocate for legal abortion. For example, in 2020, Sen. Gary Peters (D-Mich.) spoke publicly about the abortion that saved his ex-wife’s life. Males may also tell similar stories in social interactions.
While no two movements are the same, men can help reach out to those who don’t listen to women pushing for their rights, whether it’s sexual assault and harassment or reproductive justice. .
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Tarah Williams (@tarahwilliams01) is an assistant professor of political science at Allegheny College and a public researcher at the Public Religion Research Institute.
Paul Teste (@ProfPaulTesta) is an assistant professor of political science at Brown University.