What Our Recent Survey Tells Us About Abortion Dialogue

Several months ago, we asked people who follow us and a number of other pro-life groups to take a survey about dialogue habits. We wanted to analyze the ways people approached conversations about abortions on different platforms and see if there were measurable relationships between medium, conversation length, and effectiveness.

Estimated reading time: 6 minutes.

In total, we received 134 responses from people with all sorts of different backgrounds in dialogue. If you responded, thank you! Because this was a voluntary, non-representative survey sample, the results don’t have ironclad scientific value, but they should still contain valid information about general trends.

The two main relationships we looked at were: 1) conversation medium (social media, private messenger, in person, etc.) and conversation length (number of messages/minutes); and 2) conversation length and how often the other person’s mind changed. We broke the last category up into four parts, based on the intensity of change (no change, minor change, moderate change, and major change).

The next couple of sections are going to be heavy with statistics, so you can skim it if you’re not curious about the data itself and just want to see what it means in the analysis section. If you want to see me show my work or you just enjoy stats, read on.

Conversation Medium and Conversation Length

134 respondents answered questions about how long their conversations about abortion were. Responses were categorized based on length: 0) none; 1) under 10 comments/messages/minutes; 2) 10–20 comments/messages or 10–30 minutes; and 3) 21+ comments/messages or 31+ minutes. Public online exchanges were grouped as “public social media”; private online exchanges and text messages were grouped as “private social media”; and phone calls, video calls, and in-person conversations were categorized as “in-person.”

0 = None; 1 = Less than 10 minutes/messages; 2 = 10–20 messages, 10–30 minutes; 3 = 20+ messages/30+ minutes

Length Value 0 1 2 3
Public Media 38 55 28 13
Private Media 43 40 31 19
In-Person 30 35 46 23

Conversations among people in our sample lasted longer as the medium became more private and personal. People had 11 percent more category 2 conversations if they were private rather than public, and 64 percent more if they were in-person rather than public. There was a substantial difference between in-person and private, with 48 percent more middle-length conversations.

The effect was even stronger in the longest conversation category. Long conversations were 46 percent more likely using private rather than public social media, and a whopping 77 percent more likely in person than on public social media. The difference between private and in-person conversations was more muted, with only a 21 percent increase in long conversations in person.

These effects were statistically significant, χ2 (6, n = 134) = 15.3718, p = .017554.

Conversation Length and Effectiveness

In order to examine the relationship between conversation length and any resulting change in mind, we combined the responses across all three medium categories. Because there’s a lot of data in this section, I’ll stick with the highlights for each category of post-conversation change (no, minor, moderate, major).

No Change Never Sometimes Often Most of the Time
0 14 41 26 25
1 21 43 41 22
2 19 44 21 21
3 9 19 14 12

First, there was no significant relationship between the length of the conversation and how often the other person experienced no change in position, χ2 (9, n = 134) = 6.626545, p = .675937.

Minor Change Never Sometimes Often Most of the Time
0 28 56 18 9
1 25 76 19 10
2 7 46 30 20
3 3 28 8 15

The “never” and “most of the time” subsections of the minor change category had the most notable correlations with conversation. People in conversation length category 3 were only 22 percent as likely as category 0 people (29 for category 1, 82 for 2) never to experience minor change. The people with the longest conversations were also significantly more likely to experience minor change most of the time (about 3.5 times more likely than categories 0 and 1, and 1.5 times more likely than 2). People with mid-length conversations were twice as likely as the longest talkers to experience minor change often. This data was statistically significant (simulated p = 0.0004998, FET extension).

Moderate Change Never Sometimes Often Most of the Time
0 42 58 11 0
1 46 75 7 2
2 21 62 16 4
3 10 30 11 3

The same trends hold for the moderate change category. The people in the longest conversations were much more likely to experience moderate change most of the time (361 percent more likely than category 1, 143 percent more than category 2; no responses in category 0) or often (0: 206 percent more likely; 1: 378 percent; 2: 131 percent). Category 3 people were, in turn, much less likely never to experience moderate mind change (about half as often as category 0 or 1 people). These trends were statistically significant (p = 0.0008849, FET extension).

Major Change Never Sometimes Often Most of the Time
0 82 28 0 1
1 86 40 2 2
2 48 49 4 4
3 26 24 3 2

People who had long or moderately long conversations experienced mostly comparable rates of success at convincing others to make a major change in their position. However, the difference between conversation length category 3 and categories 0 and 1 was most pronounced with respect to major change. The likelihood of eliciting major change was significantly higher for any frequency level tested (most of the time: 403 percent more likely than 0, 236 percent than 1; often: 355 percent more than 1 with no response for 0; sometimes: 173 percent more than 0, 142 percent more than 1). These results were statistically significant (p = 0.0002435, FET extension).

Analysis

Ok, we’ve talked enough about the raw statistics; it’s time to look at what this all means practically for dialogue about abortion.

First, it makes sense that you’re more likely to have a longer conversation about abortion if you’re using a medium that is both more private and more personal. Public social media exchanges aren’t wholly ineffective, but they’re less likely to lead to longer conversations about abortion than private messaging or in-person dialogues. Because of the public nature of these conversations, both sides are more likely to dig in and refuse to consider opposing points, and it becomes much more difficult to take the relational steps necessary to lower the other person’s defenses.

One possible third variable is that private conversations are more likely to be with people with whom you have an existing relationship. While that could lead to more difficult conversations, it may also require less relational work just to get the dialogue off the ground.

You might be surprised that there was no relationship between how long a conversation is and how likely the conversation ends without any change in opinion. This makes sense, given that longer conversations are more likely to change people’s minds. Here’s how I think about this. You know how sometimes you have a conversation, and you can tell pretty quickly that it’s not going to go anywhere productive? I think those conversations just happen to people of all skill levels and no matter how long you spend, they’re not going to change their mind; those conversations are probably captured in this trend.

Of course, the biggest takeaway from the results is that conversations are more effective if they’re at least moderately long. Really long conversations have some advantage, but it seems that conversations lasting over 10 minutes or messages are much more likely to change minds. This holds true for all degrees of opinion change, so if you can get a conversation past the initial stages, you’re more likely to see some fruit.

Now, I can’t say that you’re more likely to change people’s minds in person or in private conversations because public social media conversations tend to be shorter. This kind of transitive reasoning doesn’t hold because there can be another variable that could explain why, even though public conversations tend to be shorter, they’re not necessarily less effective.

 

The post “What Our Recent Survey Tells Us About Abortion Dialogue” originally appeared at the Equal Rights Institute blog. Subscribe to our email list with the form below and get a FREE gift. Click here to learn more about our pro-life apologetics course, “Equipped for Life: A Fresh Approach to Conversations About Abortion.”

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Writer / Researcher

Andrew Kaake (pronounced like “cake”) is a Writer/Researcher at Equal Rights Institute. He holds a bachelor’s degree in classics and political science, cum laude, from Amherst College, where he wrote a thesis on the topic of C.S. Lewis and natural law philosophy. He completed his master’s degree in bioethics at Trinity International University, studying the philosophical underpinnings of controversies about life, death, and technology and trying to create ways to communicate that information to others. During his studies at Trinity, he worked as a research assistant for The Center for Bioethics & Human Dignity.

Andrew wants the pro-life movement to help foster a culture that seeks truth and embraces logical consistency. “What I believe about humanity and personhood clearly impacts what I think about abortion, but it also holds implications for how I should (and, more importantly, shouldn’t) dialogue with other people who disagree with me.”

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