The People Behind Gallup’s Polls


In order to fully understand any polling data, we have to understand who the numbers are about. Last week, Gallup released polling data that showed a drop in support for legal abortion among young adults ages 18 to 29. Although young people still show the highest level of support for abortion across the generations, this drop is concerning. However, we must look past the numbers to uncover why young people are expressing lower levels of support for abortion and how we might better engage them in the future.

Today’s young people were the unfortunate beneficiaries of eight years of funding and support for abstinence-only education. As a result, those in their late teens and twenties experience the highest rates of sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and unintended pregnancies. But the detrimental impact extends well beyond STIs and pregnancies.

For the most part, abstinence-only education either does not make mention about abortion rights and services or casts these rights and services in a bad light. And so, young people have not received accurate information they need to make informed decisions about their own lives or create informed opinions about matters of reproductive justice.

One of Choice USA’s young activists from Kentucky put it best: “I feel that I was short-changed in sex education because I was taught abstinence-only-until-marriage and that just doesn’t apply to everyone.”

Abstinence-only education is not solely responsible for the drop in support for legal abortion among young adults. As we know, young people receive their information both in and out of school. Unfortunately, out of school, the silence on, discomfort with and denigration of abortion has been repeated in a wide variety of venues.

Perhaps the most puzzling aspect of this polling data is that, while the data indicate changes in attitudes, young adults are nonetheless having the vast majority of abortions. A recent Guttmacher study found that women in their twenties account for 58 percent of all abortions in the United States.

Without doubt, and as we know when it comes to the stigma attached to abortion rights, there is a great disconnect between what young people are doing and what young people are saying.

We must overcome the stigma attached to abortion in order to engage all people, and most especially young people. We need to craft messages and provide information that change the hearts and minds of people and that lift up the human aspects of the abortion debate. It isn’t just about changing attitudes towards abortion, we must change how people view sex and sexuality on the whole.

Study after study has shown that young people are very progressive and also very concerned with “morality.” We need to take that knowledge and create spaces for young people to receive accurate, unbiased information and wrestle with the moral dimensions –in their various forms and complexities–of sexual and reproductive health.

In Choice USA’s work in high schools and colleges, we often meet students who have yet to form an opinion on abortion. They come to us and express reservations, frequently rooted in their cultural or religious background. We try to provide these students with spaces, free from judgment, in which they can talk about the complexities of abortion. Some do decide they are against abortion in some or all circumstances. More often than not, with accurate information in hand, these young people choose to support the full range of reproductive rights.

It’s true that today’s young people didn’t experience the tragedy of back alley abortions.  Young people can respect, but not fully comprehend, the struggles that led to the Roe decision. And young people weren’t there during the founding moments of today’s pro-choice movement.

Yet while young adults didn’t necessarily experience these things directly, they have experienced the lack of affordable options for abortion services. Young people know the impact of heinous parental notification and 24-hour waiting period laws. Above all, young people feel the stigma that exists around having abortions and supporting abortion rights.

In a recent interview about the contraceptive pill, Gloria Steinem was asked if she thought young people took the Pill for granted. She simply replied, “I hope so.” Hopefully, one day soon, young people will be able to take a woman’s right to choose for granted. That day has not yet arrived. But only then will we know our work was not done in vain.

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  • squirrely-girl

    I teach college and university Human Sexuality courses and I am AMAZED at the lack of basic knowledge my students have regarding even their own basic sexual anatomy and physiology. It genuinely worries me. 

     

    I have never felt the need or desire to keep information on any topic related to human sexuality from my students and I just don’t understand how someone could. And with the ubiquity of internet pornography (and media in general), we are FOOLS to believe that children and adolescents aren’t being exposed to sexual behaviors. I know some adults want to put their head in the sand with regard to adolescent sexuality… but those people need to grow up. Programs like “Just say No” and abstinence only sex ed are the intellectual equivalents of an ostrich. 

     

    There is a HUGE difference between making materials age-appropriate and just NOT presenting the material AT ALL. Just because you don’t teach Einstein’s theory of relativity in depth during high school physics doesn’t mean you don’t teach it at all. 

  • progo35

    “For the most part, abstinence-only education either does not make mention about abortion rights and services or casts these rights and services in a bad light. And so, young people have not received accurate information they need to make informed decisions about their own lives or create informed opinions about matters of reproductive justice.”

     

    But there are some issues with that statement. As an advocate for students in foster care, I know that some young people, esp. those with disabilities whom I advocate for, are not given appropriate sex ed-in fact, my most recent assignment concerns a young man who has not been given sex ed AT ALL. This is very wrong. But, the issues this article talks about don’t really have to do with sex ed so much as it has to do with politics. Most young people have parents who were in their twenties and thirties when Roe occured, so it isn’t as if they couldn’t get that information at home. SOME don’t, but that number isn’t high enough to have caused a statistically significant drop on its own.

    Rather, I think that many young people are extending their progressive sympathies to the fetus as well as the woman and trying to support options that entitle both to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. After all, we have come of age in a time when sonogram technology is more advanced than it has ever been. When I was in eigth grade, we all watched “The Miracle of Life” documentary in sex ed that shows human development from conception to birth. Anyone watching that video has the opportunity to decide whether or not to support abortion based on comprehesive information about fetal development.

    Also, young people have come of age in a time when they are encouraged to seek answers on an individual basis. I have come to my decision regarding abortion after exposing myself to several books, films, websites and articles on the subject. It is foolish, in my opinion, to think that abstinence only education is responsible for the drop in support for abortion among young people. We are very good at researching and asking questions before we make decisions on this important issue.

  • bei1052

    This is the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever read, and I just happen to be one of those 18 – 29 year old.

     

    Rather, I think that many young people are extending their progressive sympathies to the fetus as well as the woman and trying to support options that entitle both to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. After all, we have come of age in a time when sonogram technology is more advanced than it has ever been…

     

    Also, young people have come of age in a time when they are encouraged to seek answers on an individual basis. I have come to my decision regarding abortion after exposing myself to several books, films, websites and articles on the subject. It is foolish, in my opinion, to think that abstinence only education is responsible for the drop in support for abortion among young people. We are very good at researching and asking questions before we make decisions on this important issue.

     

    I couldn’t have said it better.

  • harry834

    I assume multiple motivations until some can be ruled out. So I imagine that progo’s idea of young people deciding based on their sight of video-taped fetal developmen and feeling that that the progressive value of life should be extended to the fetus may come into play here.

    Though in watching the fetus, the woman becomes less visible. Yes, they know that the fetus is inside a woman, but I think this is different than coming face to face with one of their classmates saying “I’m pregnant”. How will they respond to her if she wants to consider abortion?

    The idea that abortion = murder is an easy idea until you are face to face with one of these “murderers”: fellow classmates, little sisters, older sisters, maybe even a good teacher who couldn’t keep her private life from coming out and now faces job loss

    It seems the choice is this: be pregnant or be a murderer. So no personal circumstances or desire matters in this equation.

    All this experience and information is what is left out when we just see a video tape of fetal development.

  • crowepps

    It is foolish, in my opinion, to think that abstinence only education is responsible for the drop in support for abortion among young people.

    If you are right, and the drop in support IN POLLS is actually attributable to more knowledge about fetal development, etc., what’s your explanation for the fact that there hasn’t been an equally large drop in the rate of actually going and getting abortions?

     

    Do you think there’s that big a disconnect between “what I think other people hypothetically should do” and “what I decide to do when actually in the situation myself”?

  • jen-r

    The claim that younger people are increasingly rejecting abortion because they’ve been indoctrinated by conservative moralizing is hard to square with the fact that young people are by far the most pro-gay-rights generation.  Other polls show that they are less religious, less conservative, and more anti-war than the previous couple of generations.

  • amyc

    It seems the choice is this: be pregnant or be a murderer. So no personal circumstances or desire matters in this equation.

    All this experience and information is what is left out when we just see a video tape of fetal development.

     

    I believe that is the basic “logic” behind the new law in Oklahoma. I’m in the 18-29 age range, and I have to say that many of my peers are against abortion rights specifically because of what they learned in abstinence-only classes. My health class in high school did not even mention sex. There was a chapter in the book, but the teacher said one thing, “I don’t want to get in trouble here so…wear condoms or don’t do it.” It’s a sad day when that one sentence tells kids more than all of the abstinence-only programs combined.

    To the young people above: yes, there are those of us who are more inclined to research a topic and come to our own conclusions. That is what I did. But honestly, most kids are not going to do that unless/until they are faced with the situation. By that time, it is too late to worry about the politics. The ones who haven’t faced that situation usually just parrot whatever their parents/church/abstinence-only class told them.

  • harry834

    Do you think there’s that big a disconnect between “what I think other people hypothetically should do” and “what I decide to do when actually in the situation myself”?

    I think this is where my listed examples below come in. It’s the easy-to-imagine idea (abortion = murder) versus the facing the reality (my sister/classmate has just told me they need an abortion) We should also remember another easy answer: If they tell me this, I will try to to convince them to not have the abortion. This works…except at the point that people are not persuaded. Then the persuader has two choices: accept their decision or use force to stop them.

  • amyc

    It depends where you live. I live in a very conservative state. Many of the young people I encounter at school or at work are very conservative, and these are the types of people who won’t go research a topic on their own. You’re right the young people over all are more progressive, but the point of the article was that abstinence-only classes were the rule of law for many schools over the past 8 years (actually for longer than that). These classes, when they mention abortion rights, specifically cry out against abortion rights. There aren’t too many classes in high school that are specifically against gays, pro-religious, or pro-war (although some teachers may have that slant). While young adults may be more progressive over all, many of them were subjected to misinformation and lies when it comes to abortion.

  • crowepps

    Gays who have the guts to reject shaming and be open with others are living proof to young people that conservative moralizing is way off base about gays.

     

    Women who have had abortions, however, tend to keep that fact private, so many younger people aren’t even aware that they know someone who’s had an abortion. The ones who DO talk about it are precisely the ones who, having gotten their abortion, are now proselytizing about how it ‘ruined their life’, inflicted ‘post-abortion syndrome’ on them, etc., so that many young persons’ experience is that ‘all women who have had abortions regret it so abortion is a bad idea’.

     

    The ProLife advocates have done an outstanding job of framing the issue to their benefit – they talk incessantly about the BABY and keep the rest of the issues they advocate quiet, so that most young people are not aware that they ALSO want to illegalize fornication, ban contraception even for rape victims, stigmatize single motherhood, neglect to treat women suffering complications and let them die, etc., because they know those things don’t ‘sell well’.

  • colleen

    Of course, the claim that young people are increasingly ‘rejecting abortion’ is hard to square with the fact that it is young people who have the greatest number of abortions.

  • progo35

    I think that the reason that younger people between 18 and 3 have the majority of abortions is because that is the most fertile time in a woman’s life. So, the fact that support for abortion has dropped among those 18 to 35 doesn’t have an impact on whose getting the abortions. After all, the fact that most women having abortions fall into this age group does not mean that MOST people in this age group have had or would have an abortion. Thus, the two statistics do not necessarily show a conflict between how the majority of young people feel about abortion and the number of young people getting abortions.

  • progo35

    I think that the reason that younger people between 18 and 30 have the majority of abortions is because that is the most fertile time in a woman’s life. So, the fact that support for abortion has dropped among those 18 to 35 doesn’t have an impact on whose getting the abortions. After all, the fact that most women having abortions fall into this age group does not mean that MOST people in this age group have had or would have an abortion. Thus, the two statistics do not necessarily show a conflict between how the majority of young people feel about abortion and the number of young people getting abortions.

  • progo35

    Right, Jen R. I fall into this category. I support gay rights but oppose abortion.

  • crowepps

    In a poll, they’re rejecting abortion for OTHER PEOPLE.  And of course they probably feel really, REALLY bad about how absolutely necessary it was for them to have one themselves.

     

    I find it interesting that opinions on abortion are linked to education – apparently the more you know, the more likely you’ll are to think it should remain legal.

     

    http://www.gallup.com/poll/127559/education-trumps-gender-predicting-support-abortion.aspx

  • bei1052

    Some of the comments here are way off-base.

     

    1.) The notion that younger generations are more anti-abortion because of abstinence only education is ridiculous. Indeed, it ignores the fact that younger generations have been less supportive of abortion then their preceeding generations for the last thirty or so years, and unless you’re going to blame that fact on abstinence only education, which wouldn’t make much sense, then there’s no argument to be had here.

     

    With the exception of the period from 1982 to 1985, where older people are more opposed to abortion than younger people in Model 1, age is significant only in the full model, and is consistently positive in its association with abortion approval, indicating that after controlling for other factors, older people are more approving of abortion than younger people.

     

    2.) Progo35 was dead on in his/her conclusion regarding the pro-life movement being progressive in nature. 

     

    To the extent that abortion attitudes have been shaped by social movement organizations, it appears that the pro-life movement has been more successful at framing the abortion issue than has the pro-choice movement. The two social attitude constructs that have become more closely correlated with abortion attitudes are attitudes toward sexuality and belief about the sanctity of human life. These are the two central issues that have been emphasized by pro-life media campaigns (Ferree, 1998). The pro-choice movement, on the other hand, has focused on the claims that legal abortion is an entitlement of the right to privacy, that the state should not be coopted by religious views, and that abortion is necessary for gender equality (Ferree, 1998). Our results indicate the correlates that increase in strength are sexual liberalism and belief in sanctity of human life, the values that have been emphasized by the pro-life movement. The frames most utilized by the pro-choice movement, feminism and religiosity, have remained stable or weakened in their association with abortion attitudes…

     

    First, public opinion has responded to the broader cultural themes raised by the pro-life movement more than to those emphasized by the pro-choice movement. Hence, gender equality has become generally accepted as a social value (Jelen, 1997), but the mainstream acceptance of feminist principles has not led to increasing approval of abortion, even though the pro-choice movement has attempted to link these two issues. Second, public opinion has moved in the direction of becoming more “progressive” on the two issues that have become aligned with abortion attitudes: belief in the sanctity of human life and sexual liberalism.

     

    Pro-life is a socially progressive movement itself linked to other progressive issues; pro-choice, on the other hand, is not. A hard pill to swallow for pro-choice advocates, but it is what it is.

     

    Everything comes from this study (2002) ---> http://hlmoon.com/docs/2312_week6_reading1.pdf

  • bei1052

    If you are right, and the drop in support IN POLLS is actually attributable to more knowledge about fetal development, etc., what’s your explanation for the fact that there hasn’t been an equally large drop in the rate of actually going and getting abortions?

     

    Do you think there’s that big a disconnect between “what I think other people hypothetically should do” and “what I decide to do when actually in the situation myself”?

     

    No. The “disparity” is due to unintended pregnancy rates. When it comes to the percentage of pregnancies ending in abortion, however, those over 30 abort a greater percentage of their pregnancies then do those between 20 and 29, and those between 20 and 29 abort a greater number of their pregnancies then do those 19 and under.

  • harry834

    between what the data says about young people’s beliefs and what young people should believe.

     

  • harry834

    “After all, the fact that most women having abortions fall into this age group does not mean that MOST people in this age group have had or would have an abortion.”

     

    Essentially this says that just because most of group A belongs to group B, doesn’t mean most of group B will belong to group A. This is a legitamite claim, correct?

     

     

  • harry834

    you don’t believe there is much over lap between 18-30 years olds that have abortions and those that believe against abortion?

    I do think the Progo’s age-of-fertility hypothesis is a fair one.

    A digressive note: if 18-30 year olds oppose abortion so much and other 18-30 years old have the greater quantity of abortions, perhaps the former has rarely experienced had members of the latter tell them about their situation and circumstances.

     

     

  • bei1052

    between what the data says about young people’s beliefs and what young people should believe.

     

    And who, pray tell, was mixing those two up?

  • colleen

    if 18-30 year olds oppose abortion so much and other 18-30 years old have the greater quantity of abortions, perhaps the former has rarely experienced had members of the latter tell them about their situation and circumstances.

    A minority of these folks took ab-only seriously and remain disapproving virgins. It’s hard to believe that their more sexually experienced peers would feel comfortable openly discussing their real life problems and concerns.

  • harry834

    I meant that to be a general statement to everyone in this comment thread. I wasn’t directing it at any particular person.

  • crowepps

    I can’t imagine anybody in their right mind ‘sharing’ the fact of their abortion with someone who has previously shared their opinion is “abortion is murder”.

  • crowepps

    Isn’t that what the entire dueling media and publicity efforts are about – what young people should believe?

  • harry834

    “A minority of these folks took ab-only seriously and remain disapproving virgins.”

    Doesn’t this (whether we like it or not) support the idea that ab-only is not the major factor in attitudes here? You did say it was only a “minority”.

  • harry834

    are part of the persuasive game, whereas data (hopefully) is part of the descriptive game.

    and of course, even correct data can be spun towards a faulty conclusion.

  • harry834

    are hopefully the stories of real women who will be affected by losing the right to choose. The “are you for or against abortion?” question does not reveal these stories: http://www.imnotsorry.net/

    these are stories experienced by women you know, who may not have told some of those who took that poll.

  • jayn

    Even if their peers hadn’t said ‘abortion is murder’, I can easily see someone keeping quiet about having had one.  It’s a pretty uncomfortable subject for many people, and possibly healthier for the woman’s mental state not to be open about it, except with people who they know are accepting of it.  Better that than risk being denounced as having ‘killed ones baby’.

  • crowepps

    Any educational program based on withholding knowledge is going to leave teens uneducated so that they don’t have the complete basis of knowledge available from which to FORM an opinion. I wouldn’t go so far as to say ab-only is “the major factor” but in my opinion ignorance of all the scientifically confirmed FACTS of reproduction certainly would be a major factor as would leaving teen myths unaddressed and uncontradicted.

     

    Just for instance, on another subject altogether, a survey revealing a RISING percentage of boys who think asking a girl on a date ENTITLES them to sex whether the girl wants to or not.

     

    http://www.southofboston.net/specialreports/teensexsurvey/day1/page3.shtml

  • crowepps

    The number of people who are willing to spin the science so it reveals what the ‘customer’ wants is legion, especially when there is money involved.

  • ahunt

    This is what is so counter-intuitive, Bei…and am still struggling with understanding.

    It got a little easier with a post from Hugo Schwyzer: As any historian of sexual behavior knows, you can never attribute to moral conviction what can be much better explained by lack of access.

     

    For example, given what we know about the lack of access in so-called Red States, with their lower rates of abortion, it seems to me that the lack of resources and facilities for  low-income women has to be factored into your “demand” theory.

     

  • colleen

     

    Doesn’t this (whether we like it or not) support the idea that ab-only is not the major factor in attitudes here? You did say it was only a “minority”.

    Well, no. The part of ab only that, statistically speaking, few people embrace is the notion that sex kills you unless you save yourself for marriage. Kids have sex and almost everyone, ab only education or not, has had sex before getting married by the time they’re 30 and usually much younger. Just because they have sex does not mean they haven’t absorbed a contradictory and dysfunctional sex of mores about sexuality and reproduction. Take, for instance, the sad abeit lucrative saga of Bristol Palin, whose career has led her to being a spokeswoman for, abstinence only sex education, unmarried motherhood and a clothing line for pre teens who want to be just like her.Meanwhile Bristol’s mother was charging rape victims for processing their own forensic evidence.

     

     

  • harry834

    I have read all your responses to my comments. Thank you. I will share that link on the entitled boys.

    Also, I want to ask a question about Progo. And Progo, if you want to answer, I would prefer that. Ideally, I’d send a private message but that doesn’t seem to work. Before I ask my question, are private messages still working?

  • progo35

    Sure, you can ask a question. I’ll probably answer, provided it’s a polite one. Of course, I guess I have to wait to see what the question is before determining whether I would wan to answer it on a public forum, albeit anonymously.  But I would probably answer.

  • harry834

    Probably will ask it 5P today latest

  • harry834

    I may have to postpone that question until at least next week. Got a paper to do among other stuff. I promise, when the time comes, this one will be politely phrased, but probably still challenging.

  • eternalskeptic

    Ditto here.  There are probably more of us “out there” than mainstream media would like to think.

  • eternalskeptic

    “The claim that younger people are increasingly rejecting abortion because they’ve been indoctrinated by conservative moralizing . . .”

    This phrase alone expresses why I take issue with not only this article, but also the whole premise of the ab only v. comprehensive ed debate.  I happen to favor the comprehensive approach.  But the underlying assumption of both sides is that you can convey your ideology to teenagers and they’ll just swallow it unquestioningly.  But alas, life is full of nuance, complexity, and a diverse population of teenagers, many (if not most) of whom are capable of thinking for themselves.  Perhaps we could overcome these assumptions by viewing youth not as stupid sheep-lings who are “educated,” but as complex individuals who may form their own views regardless of the ones imposed on them. Choice USA, of all organizations, should acknowledge this.    

     

  • progo35

    So, where is this death-defying, earth-shattering question you’re going to ask?

  • progo35

    So, where is this death-defying, earth-shattering question you’re going to ask?