Monday, January 6, 2014

The Pro-Life Generation

A Secular Pro-Life member recently asked for the source of the claim that young Americans are more pro-life than their older counterparts (which has earned us the moniker "the pro-life generation"). The claim is not based on one particular survey, but on a series of polls over several years. For everyone's convenience, this blog post serves as a general overview and gathers various relevant items in one place.

The data aren't perfect; different polling firms use different questions, ranging from the general "pro-life or pro-choice" question to more specific questions about the circumstances in which abortion should or should not be permitted. Nevertheless, taken together, they paint a useful picture.

The pro-life youth trend first emerged in the early 2000s. In 2003, Gallup polled Americans between the ages of 13 and 17 and found that they overwhelmingly believed that abortion was morally wrong (including, Secular Pro-Life is pleased to note, those teens who did not attend church). Moreover, they weren't just "personally pro-life"; they wanted legal limits on abortion. It was a sign of things to come.

In 2004, Zogby found that 60% of Americans between the ages of 18 and 29 were pro-life (including 23% who supported a rape exception). Sadly, I cannot find the original Zogby poll, but contemporaneous summaries are available here and here.

In anticipation of the 2008 presidential election, the New York Times, CBS News, and MTV organized a youth-focused poll that covered a wide range of topics, including abortion. It found that Americans under 30 were more likely than the general population to say that abortion should be illegal or more strictly limited. However, the general population leaned pro-life, too; among all adults it was 58% to 39% in favor of abortion restrictions, while among young adults it was 62% to 37%.

In 2010, Gallup published an article entitled "Generational Differences on Abortion Narrow," in which it noted that support for legal abortion had "dipped" among young people. In the span of a decade, there was a significant change: back in the 1990s, the 18- to 29-year-old cohort was the most supportive of unrestricted legal abortion. But by 2010, young people were more pro-life than their parents, the 30-49 group and the 50-64 group. (However, they were not more pro-life than their grandparents, the 64+ group. This is why you sometimes hear the clarification that this is the most pro-life generation since Roe v. Wade. As an aside, this undercuts the excuse made by some pro-choice advocates that young people are only pro-life because they aren't old enough to remember the alleged "bad old days of back-alley abortion.")

Finally, it is worth noting that the label "pro-life generation" is not purely a numerical one; it is also a qualitative one. The Susan B. Anthony List points to a NARAL poll which found a troubling-for-them, great-for-babies difference in the level of enthusiasm young people have for the cause: "51% of pro-life young people see abortion as an important electoral issue, while only 20% of pro-choice young people feel the same way."

Obviously this is not a comprehensive list of every abortion poll known to man, but I hope it's helpful. Feel free to share any other pieces on abortion views by age in the comments!


Crystal Kupper said...

Now if only people would start putting those beliefs into votable action.

LN said...

(1) 2003: ages 13-17 (would be 23-27 now)
(2) 2007: ages 17-29 (would be 23-35 now):
(3) 2005-2009: ages 18-29
(4) 2013: ages 18-34

My question is what do we see *now*? Can we expect old trends to continue in (1) their original holders and (2) in the new generations?

An important factor to consider is how the question is asked. The "morality of abortion" seems to mean squat since we now have the popular "immoral for me, ok for everyone else". And I'm starting to think the trio-question isn't that helpful either except to look at the extremes. The quad question, which the last link shows, is much better because typically on the trio question, you have a ton of pro-choicers and pro-lifers in the middle bar whereas in the quad question you have pro-lifers on one bar and pro-choicers on another.

Even taking that into account, if we look at the extremes, you'll notice that the teens who took the 2003 poll have changed (it also includes some new people who are 18-22 and 30-34, but if the younger people are so pro-life then the "new" older people in the poll should be offset by the "new" younger people). How have they changed? Well in (1) 19% said legal in any but in (4) that went up to 29%. Likewise in (1) a whopping 32% said illegal in all, and in (4) that goes down to 23%.

That's not something we should ignore.

The only explanation for this I can think of is that teens change their mind by the time they're old enough to vote.