Latest UNH poll shows opposition to state’s new abortion ban is growing

By: - July 28, 2021 1:38 pm
Gov. Chris Sununu stands at a podium

If abortion is a wedge issue in the mid-terms, it may be less damaging for Chris Sununu if he seeks re-election as governor rather than U.S. Sen. Maggie Hassan’s seat. (Courtesy)

Opposition to the state’s new 24-week abortion ban, which mandates ultrasounds and carries criminal penalties for doctors who violate it, grew by 10 percentage points in a month, according to the UNH Survey Center’s most recent Granite State Poll.

The ban has gotten significantly more attention in the last four weeks, and new wording in the July poll made clear the law has no exceptions for rape, incest, or a fetus unable to survive on its own. A separate question in the July poll asked respondents for the first time about the law’s requirement that all women get an ultrasound before abortion at any point in pregnancy, a mandate the medical community has vehemently opposed. Fifty-three percent of respondents said they opposed that ultrasound requirement; 31 percent said they favored it. 

What those results mean for Gov. Chris Sununu’s political future is less clear, especially since he describes himself as pro-choice but just signed the state’s first abortion restriction since 2011, when the Legislature overrode then-Gov. John Lynch’s veto of a parental notification requirement.

The short answer is it depends on voter turnout and whether abortion is a key issue in the election, and what office he seeks, says Dante Scala, a political science professor at the University of New Hampshire.

The most recent Granite State Poll results, released Monday, showed opposition to the ban in the budget Sununu signed grew from 46 percent in June to 56 percent in July. Support for the ban fell from 43 percent to 33 percent between polls.  

Andy Smith, director of the UNH Survey Center, said his team wrote the questions in both surveys but declined to compare them in July results, as they do with other issues, because a change in wording can alter responses. The other change that makes comparison difficult, Smith said, is that in June the abortion ban had only passed the Legislature, and by the July poll Sununu had signed it into law. 

Scala, however, sees telling details in the June-to-July results.

Sununu and Republicans will benefit if abortion is pushed aside as a key campaign issue by COVID-19, the economy, or the big-dollar infrastructure bills. That scenario is hard to imagine in light of the U.S. Supreme Court’s acceptance of a Mississippi abortion case that could restrict or upend abortion rights currently protected by Roe v. Wade. If the court shifts decisions about abortion to the states, Republicans like Sununu will no longer be able to side-step abortion by declaring it a federal issue, Scala said. And Republicans are less unified than Democrats in their positions on abortion.

“I’ve never seen it be a very good thing when Republicans are running in elections when quote-unquote social issues are on the front burner,” he said. “It does tend to divide them.”

Sununu has largely been successful in defending himself as pro-choice, even after voting against a key federal contract for Planned Parenthood of Northern New England during his time on the Executive Council. That will be harder to do after signing the abortion restriction into law.

Planned Parenthood is challenging his defense of the 24-week ban as a budget item he didn’t ask for and a common-sense restriction 43 other states have adopted. (Many of those bans differ, with exemptions for a fetal anomaly, no ultrasound requirement, or no criminal penalties for doctors.) And they see Sununu’s recent statement that he’s open to repealing the ultrasound mandate as an attempt to have it both ways. Planned Parenthood will also try to elevate the restriction as a challenge to the state’s identity.

“Granite Staters are furious that Gov. Sununu signed into law an abortion ban and ultrasound mandate that interfere with the right to make one’s own decisions in consultation with their families and providers,” said Liz Canada, advocacy manager for the Planned Parenthood of New Hampshire Action Fund. “New Hampshire has a long bipartisan tradition of supporting reproductive freedom, and Gov. Sununu’s ban is a direct attack on our state’s core values.”

Abortion would also help Democrats turn out its base in a mid-term election, always a challenge but critical in a state where the parties are divided by a slim margin. And they won’t have Donald Trump on the ballot, eliminating a huge motivator for Democratic voters and even Republican voters in the general election, Scala said.

If abortion is a wedge issue in the mid-terms, it may be less damaging for Sununu if he seeks re-election as governor rather than U.S. Sen. Maggie Hassan’s seat. The incumbent always enjoys an advantage, and Sununu can redirect voters’ attention to issues they have said he’s handled well, like the pandemic and the state’s economy. 

Challenging Hassan, who never supported abortion restrictions as governor or U.S. senator, would force an abortion debate between two candidates who identify as pro-choice but one of whom has passed an abortion ban.

Sununu’s office did not return a request for comment.

Survey bar chart on June question
The abortion question in the June survey. (Source: UNH Survey Center)

July survey bar chart
The abortion question in the July survey. (Source: UNH Survey Center)

Ultrasound bar chart
The ultrasound question in the July survey. (Source: UNH Survey Center)

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Annmarie Timmins
Annmarie Timmins

Senior reporter Annmarie Timmins is a New Hampshire native who covered state government, courts, and social justice issues for the Concord Monitor for 25 years. During her time with the Monitor, she won a Nieman Fellowship to study journalism and mental health courts at Harvard for a year. She has taught journalism at the University of New Hampshire and writing at the Nackey S. Loeb School of Communications.