In Thursday's debate, Fox News' Megyn Kelly confronted Scott Walker with a data point: "Would you really let a mother die rather than have an abortion, and with 83 percent of the American public in favor of a life exception, are you too out of the mainstream on this issue to win the general election?"
Walker didn't challenge the statistic, but defended his stance and claimed his position is "in line with everyday America." Here's his full response:
WALKER: Well, I'm pro-life, I've always been pro-life, and I've got a position that I think is consistent with many Americans out there in that...(APPLAUSE) in that I believe that that is an unborn child that's in need of protection out there, and I've said many a time that that unborn child can be protected, and there are many other alternatives that can also protect the life of that mother. That's been consistently proven. Unlike Hillary Clinton, who has a radical position in terms of support for Planned Parenthood, I defunded Planned Parenthood more than four years ago, long before any of these videos came out...I've got a position that's in line with everyday America.
While Walker's definition of "everyday America" isn't exactly clear, surveys show the vast majority of Americans think abortion should be legal in the case of rape, incest or to protect the mother's health.
How popular are such exceptions? Fox's Kelly cited an 83 percent statistic that appears to come from a 2012 CNN/Opinion Research Corporation poll where that percent of U.S. adults said abortion should be legal "when the woman's physical health is endangered" or when "the pregnancy was caused by rape."
More recently, the 2014 General Social Survey found 75 percent of Americans said a woman should be able to obtain an abortion if the pregnancy was the result of rape. An even larger 85 percent said abortion should be legal if a woman's health is seriously endangered. (Sidebar: The GSS also shows why abortion attitudes are so prone to political spin, with support for the practice ranging widely depending on the circumstance.)
So why is Walker taking such an apparently unpopular position?
Beyond personal conviction, he's likely trying to forge a strong connection with Christian conservatives among whom absolute opposition to abortion is more popular. In the 2014 GSS, over 3 in 10 Republicans opposed abortion in the case of rape; that number rose to 46 percent among Republicans who are evangelical Christians.
Abortion-focused voters were a major part of Rick Santorum's 2012 victory in the Iowa caucuses. While the network entrance poll found only 13 percent of caucus-goers saying abortion was their most important issue, fully 58 percent supported Santorum. He lost every other group to Mitt Romney or Ron Paul.
With the field even more scattered this time around, this particular group of "everyday Americans" could help Walker rise up in the first major contest next year.
Methodology for the General Social Survey
The General Social Survey was funded primarily by the National Science Foundation and conducted through in-person interviews with a random national sample of adults from March 31 to Oct. 13, 2014. Results for questions on abortion are based on 1,694 interviews, and carry margin of sampling error of three percentage points. Data analysis was conducted by The Washington Post.