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Jeff Greenfield on the muddled middle…and the base

Finally…if you want a dramatic example of the gap between the most ardent supporters of the two parties and the broad middle of the country, you can’t find a sharper issue than the abortion question. To go by their platforms both Republicans and Democrats have staked out positions than can fairly be described as absolute. To go by the polls, the country is in a very different place.

As recently as 1976, the Republicans offered a pro-choice candidate–Gerald Ford–and a platform that simply noted widely divergent opinions. By 1980, its candidate–Ronald Reagan–was squarely against abortion, and the platform was to.

And since 1984, the GOP platform has declared, quote, “the unborn child has a fundamental individual right to life which cannot be infringed.” Taken literally, that would forbid all abortions, even to save the life of the mother.

The platform also backs a “human life amendment” to the constitution, which would quote, “make clear the Fourteenth Amendment’s protections apply to unborn children.”

The platform also backs a ‘human life amendment” to the Constitution.

And the Democrats? Well, back in 1992, the party’s nominee, Bill Clinton set out his position this way.

“..abortion should be safe, legal..and rare.”

But, in the Democrats’ current platform, “rare” is a missing notion. Rather, the party says “ the Democratic Party strongly and unequivocally supports Roe v. Wade and a woman’s right to make decisions regarding her pregnancy, including a safe and legal abortion, regardless of ability to pay.”

It makes no reference to any limits about how late in a pregnancy this right would apply. Or any other limits. Indeed, it says: “abortion is an intensely personal decision between a woman, her family, her doctor, and her clergy; there is no place for politicians or government to get in the way.”

Now, by contrast, look at what polls tell us about where Americans stand.

A Gallup poll last May that 50 per cent call themselves “pro life” while 41 per call themselves “pro-choice.” But these numbers measure personal feelings, not what they think about what the laws should say.

And even though most people identified themselves as pro-life, only 20 percent believe abortions should be completely banned. And only 25 percent thought abortion should always be legal but with restrictions of one kind or another.

So overwhelming majorities do not agree with the Democratic position or the Republican platform position.

And just to add in one final note—Mitt Romney, the Republican presidential nominee—would support abortion in the case of rape and incest, which means he disagrees with his own party’s platform. And when late-term abortion was outlawed by Congress in 2003, 17 Democrats—including the majority leader—voted for the bill.

Nothing like absolute clarity on an issue, is there?