A Winning Issue: Abortion and Pascal's Wager


I know your works; I know that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either cold or hot. So, because you are lukewarm, neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth.


Shortly before Virginia Attorney General and gubernatorial hopeful was routed by Clinton bagman Terry McAuliffe I posted The Abortion Truce Trap. In it I noted that while Cuccinelli was being bombarded with, as it turned out, several million dollars in ads attacking his position on abortion, he was refusing to attack McAuliffe’s support for unbridled infanticide.

I quote Maggie Gallagher who summarized the problem of conservative candidates running away from an issue that has roughly 70% support in the electorate:

The one lesson Republicans probably will not learn from Ken Cuccinelli’s troubled campaign for Virginia governor is the most important: Politically, the “truce strategy” on abortion fails. If it is not abandoned, it will drag down the GOP.


The truce strategy demoralizes the GOP base and makes it hard for the grass roots to care about Republican candidates. Conservative candidates are advised to deflect or retreat when social issues are raised, and their refusal to speak clearly and hold the line allows Democratic candidates to adopt more extreme positions, energizing their own base and unleashing a flood of money at no political cost. Democrats are confident that their opponents will not make an issue of their positions. Republican candidates’ apparent discomfort discussing such issues makes it look like they have something to hide, confirming to many voters Democratic suggestions that GOP candidates’ positions are extreme.

Now what we have long suspected is true seems to have an empirical basis. Writing in Campaigns & Elections magazine (hat tip to Ben Domenech’s indispensable The Transom) Adam B. Schaeffer, Ph.D., (director of research at Evolving Strategies, LLC, and  Nancy Smith, grassroots coordinator for Middle Resolution PAC) take a look at abortion and the Virginia governor’s campaign. Though caveated, they state:


In Virginia, many have argued the Obamacare debacle helped close the gap in the final weeks of the gubernatorial election, and that with more time and money to get Cuccinelli’s message out on that front, he might have won. But this is pure speculation.

Correlation doesn’t prove causation, and what we have here is a correlation between the media’s focus on problems with Obamcare and an unexpectedly close result in the gubernatorial election. Absent experimental data, we can’t say whether these events impacted the race or whether messaging tied to it would have shifted more votes toward Cuccinelli.

Evolving Strategies and the Middle Resolution PAC conducted experimental research that suggests an aggressive attack on McAuliffe for supporting ObamaCare was ineffective at best and counter-productive at worst. An attack on McAuliffe’s business record possibly helped, but was anemic.

What moved the voters most was an attack on McAuliffe’s positions on abortion; a single phone message emphasizing McAuliffe’s support for unrestricted, late-term, and taxpayer-funded abortions shifted support a net 13 to 15 points away from McAuliffe and toward Cuccinelli. The cost per vote here was a remarkably cheap $0.50 per additional vote, and even less expensive still when targeting the most persuadable segment of the electorate.

The 17th century French mathematician, Blaise Pascal, devised an interesting argument for moral behavior now called Pascal’s Wager:

“God is, or He is not.” But to which side shall we incline? Reason can decide nothing here. There is an infinite chaos which separated us. A game is being played at the extremity of this infinite distance where heads or tails will turn up. What will you wager? According to reason, you can do neither the one thing nor the other; according to reason, you can defend neither of the propositions.

Do not, then, reprove for error those who have made a choice; for you know nothing about it. “No, but I blame them for having made, not this choice, but a choice; for again both he who chooses heads and he who chooses tails are equally at fault, they are both in the wrong. The true course is not to wager at all.”

Yes; but you must wager. It is not optional. You are embarked. Which will you choose then? Let us see. Since you must choose, let us see which interests you least. You have two things to lose, the true and the good; and two things to stake, your reason and your will, your knowledge and your happiness; and your nature has two things to shun, error and misery. Your reason is no more shocked in choosing one rather than the other, since you must of necessity choose. This is one point settled. But your happiness? Let us weigh the gain and the loss in wagering that God is. Let us estimate these two chances. If you gain, you gain all; if you lose, you lose nothing. Wager, then, without hesitation that He is.


Essentially, this paper presents the abortion issue as a political version of Pascal’s Wager. For a GOP candidate running for office and ignoring abortion is not possible. You have to decide to be either a sufficiently virulent variety pro-abort that makes it impossible for you to be attacked by Planned Parenthood or you have to be vocally pro-life and attack the issue head on.

The decision should be easy.  Abortion is criminal. There is no medical reason for abortion. Late term abortion is indistinguishable from infanticide. Abortion has nothing to do with women’s rights and everything to do with how we value the most vulnerable members of our society. Every culture that has embrace abortion has inevitably moved on to embraced post-partum infanticide and euthanasia.

There is no reason our candidates should refuse to take a stand against abortion, but especially against late term abortion. It is not only moral, it is good politics.


Join the conversation as a VIP Member

Trending on RedState Videos