The Abortion Generation Gap

The Abortion Generation Gap

A new poll from PRRI has found wide generational gaps on issues of abortion, reproductive health, and sexual assault.

“As this younger generation continues to flex its political muscles—as we saw in the response to the Parkland shooting—they could also reshape the national conversation on women’s health issues,” said PRRI CEO Robert P. Jones in a statement.

The poll, released today, found that nearly all Americans believe that health insurance plans, both private and government-provided, should cover birth control and testing for sexually transmitted infections. Fewer than half of those surveyed, however, believe abortion should be covered under most health-care plans. Though women were generally more in favor of abortion access and wider health-care coverage, and were more likely to prioritize the issue when deciding how to vote, the bigger gaps on questions of abortion were those of age, as well as education level and political affiliation.

Of people aged 18 to 29, 65 percent said that abortion should be legal in all or most cases. And while most Americans’ views on legality have remained relatively unchanged over the past decade, younger Americans were more likely to say their views on abortion have changed in recent years—overwhelmingly to a position of greater support for abortion rights, perhaps mirroring the broad leftward shift of the millennial generation.

The poll also uncovered a wide generation gap on perceptions of how difficult abortions are to obtain. Despite the fact that restrictive state policies have closed clinics across the country, sometimes forcing women to travel days or across state lines to get the procedure, nearly half of Americans said that obtaining an abortion in their community was not that difficult. But here, too, age was a stronger predictor of perceptions of availability than even gender or partisan affiliation. Nearly half (49 percent) of young people thought that local abortions were at least somewhat difficult to obtain, compared with just 26 percent of people over the age of 65. And while more than two-thirds (69 percent) of young people believe there should be abortion providers in their community, only 46 percent of seniors felt the same.

While the differences between millennials and seniors are the most glaring, the survey also highlighted different levels of support for abortion rights by race and religion, with black Americans generally more supportive and white evangelicals often, predictably, an outlier in their opposition. A pronounced gender divide also exists in perceptions of sexual assault and harassment cases. While the majority of Americans believe unreported or disbelieved cases to be a bigger problem than the specter of false accusations, nearly a third of men think that false accusations are more worrisome, especially Republican men (41 percent).

“Given this,” PRRI Director of Strategic Engagement Carolyn Davis said in a statement, “the [Republican] party is not likely to prioritize effectively combating sexual harassment or assault unless the women of the party push the GOP to action.”

Whether that is likely remains a mystery, but it’s a safe bet that it will be a while before the Republican Party catches up to the majority of the country—and especially to the younger generation—if it catches up at all.