RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) — Republicans have said one reason they want to tighten North Carolina’s abortion laws is because polling data indicated public support for it.

State lawmakers fast-tracked a bill this week that would severely limit the procedure in the state after 12 weeks — a sharp change from the existing 20-week ban.

Shortly after the bill was announced, anti-abortion groups began circulating polling results — along with an interpretation of them that deserves a closer look.

THE CLAIM: A statement from Susan B. Anthony Pro-Life America said “62 percent of North Carolinians support legislation to protect unborn babies by at least 12 weeks, with exceptions for rape, incest and life of the mother.”

THE FACTS: That number comes from a poll conducted by Differentiators Data, an offshoot of the Differentiators — a team of Republican political operatives whose two partners previously worked on the staff of Senate Leader Phil Berger.

One of those partners, Jim Blaine, referred questions about the poll to Susan B. Anthony Pro-Life America.

A spokesperson affiliated with that organization says 500 registered voters in the state were surveyed from Jan. 9-12. A third of them were contacted via cellphone, a third were reached via landline phone and a third responded via text-to-web.

The poll has a margin of error of 4.5 percent — customary for a sample size of 500 people.

The spokesperson says 33 percent of respondents were registered Republicans, 33 percent were Democrats and 34 percent were unaffiliated voters.

That split slightly overrepresents Republicans, who make up 30 percent of the state’s registered voters, according to Board of Elections data. Unaffiliated voters make up 36 percent while 33 percent are Democrats.

The main number in question comes from the executive summary of the poll: “62 percent of all voters support laws that would limit abortions with exceptions for rape, incest or to protect the life of the mother in North Carolina to the first trimester of pregnancy or earlier.”

Respondents were asked: “Which type of abortion law would you prefer the NC legislature adopt?” along with seven responses.

The percentages of four of those answers add up to 62 percent:

  • 9 percent, conception with no exceptions.
  • 21 percent, conception with exceptions.
  • 14 percent, heartbeat with exceptions.
  • 18 percent, first trimester with exceptions.

But should those who chose that first option even be a part of that 62 percent in the first place?

The claim clearly says those exceptions are included. The first option, the one chosen by the 9 percent, plainly says those exceptions would not be allowed.

When asked why that 9 percent is included in the 62, the spokesperson says the issue is the timeline and the phrase “or earlier” in the claim is the key.

“A limit at conception with no exceptions is certainly earlier than the end of the first trimester, so the 9% should definitely be included, making the total 62%,” the spokesperson said in an email.

The spokeswoman did not respond to a follow-up email to clarify that point.

Dr. Jonas Swartz, a researcher and obstetrician-gynecologist at Duke Health, says that misses the point.

“It sounds like 9 percent want an overall abortion ban,” he said. “They don’t want a ban that is at 12 weeks. … I can’t speak for those people, but I would imagine that some of them would not have supported a 12-week ban because it doesn’t go far enough. So to lump them in is simply incorrect.”

Those findings also seem at odds with a Meredith College poll from February.

That one surveyed 973 registered voters between Feb. 3-7; was weighted for gender, party, location, race, ethnicity and education to more closely resemble the state’s population; and has a margin of error of 3 percent.

It found 57 percent of respondents want to either keep the current 20-week law or allow the procedure beyond that point, while nearly 35 percent would choose to either ban it after 15 weeks, “severely limit” it to those aforementioned exceptions or make it illegal in all cases.

“The Meredith poll seems much more consistent with what other polls have found, and so the fact that this poll … does not seem consistent with that should make us question whether they are actually sampling in a way that is representative of the population,” Swartz said.

“The other challenge with polling is that the questions that you ask really matter,” he added. “Some of the research I’ve done is looking at women’s knowledge of abortion laws in their state and in a nationally representative sample. People had very low knowledge of the abortion laws in their state, so that matters in terms of how you frame a question.

“If you frame a question as, ‘Do you want doctors killing babies at 15 weeks?’ that’s really different than, ‘What do you think about abortion rights? Or do you think that there should be a limit, a gestational age limit, at fetal viability?” he continued. “Those are really, really different types of questions. And so the way that you frame the question and the way that you ask and approach the individuals in the poll is also really important.”