WASHINGTON, DC—Washington College professor Melissa Deckman was a panelist at the Brookings Institution on Thursday, June 9, to discuss the results of a major new study that examined attitudes about abortion and support for same-sex marriage among the millennial generation.
Deckman, an associate professor of political science, says millennials, like their parents before them, hold conflicted and often contradictory attitudes about abortion, but are much more supportive of gay marriage than prior generations. The new study, sponsored by the Public Religious Research Institute, considered how religion, education, partisanship, and where a person resides (region and urban/rural divides) factor into this decision.
Deckman says the study broke new ground in finding that levels of support for access to abortion—the notion that at least some health-care professionals in their communities should provide legal abortion—is highest among the millennial generation. Sixty eight percent of millennials say that there should be access to abortion services, yet just 60 percent say it should be legal in most circumstances. “This finding suggests that traditional measures of support for abortion rights may not fully capture how all millennials feel about abortion,” she says.
The study also considered some unique factors in its analysis, such as whether viewing MTV’s reality show about unmarried pregnant teenagers, Teen Mom, impacted views on abortion (yes, it has a positive impact on support for the legality of abortions); and whether seeing an ultrasound impacts views on abortion (yes, it has a negative impact on support for its legality).
Deckman reports that, all told, the study confirms that abortion attitudes have remained fairly consistent over the past four decades. But despite this consistency and the fact that a slight majority of Americans favor the legalization of abortion in most circumstances, pro-life activists have been increasingly successful in restricting access to abortion through state legislative policy. “Pro-lifers are three times more likely than pro-choice supporters to say that abortion is a critical issue for them,” she told the panel audience. “They’re highly motivated. They recruit candidates and become legally and politically savvy. They help promote legislation,” she said.
When it comes to same-sex marriage, the PRRI survey showed the millennials to be much more supportive on this issue than older age groups. Fifty-seven percent of 18-to-29-year-olds favor same-sex marriage, making them the only age group to give the idea majority support. Another 19 percent of millennials support civil unions among gays.
Among other age groups, support for gay marriage declines as age increases: 42 percent of people ages 30 to 49 support it; but the percentage drops to 32 percent of those ages 50 to 64, and 26 percent of seniors 65 and older. “While it is not surprising that younger Americans are more liberal on gay marriage,” says Deckman, “it is important to remember that views on this issue are also colored by religious belief. For many conservative, devout Americans, opposition to abortion rights and gay marriage continue to motivate their political choices.”
The panel discussion was moderated by Brookings Senior Fellow E.J. Dionne, Jr., and also featured Robert P. Jones, CEO of PRRI and principal researcher on the survey, and Karlyn Bowman, senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute. Video highlights and full audio from the June 9 event, are posted at http://www.brookings.edu/events/2011/0609_values_millennials.aspx