Support for Abortion Rights Among the Young Hasn’t Changed Much

Ed Kilgore draws my attention to a new PRRI survey which suggests that young people are becoming friendlier toward abortion rights.

Most Americans say their own views have not changed on the issue in recent years….The pattern among young Americans, however, is unique. Approximately one-third of young Americans say their views on abortion have changed in recent years, and nearly three times as many say their views have become more supportive of abortion rather than more opposed to abortion (25% vs. 9%).

This is good news, but I found myself a little dubious. I’d rather see a plain old trendline of young people’s attitudes toward abortion rights over time, but PRRI doesn’t provide that. Neither do most pollsters. But the biannual General Social Survey does, so I went there.

GSS asks questions about whether you support abortion in case of rape, in case of birth defects, etc. The closest we can get to a general question is whether you support abortion no matter why the woman wants one. However, the thing to look at here isn’t the raw numbers, which always depend strongly on question wording, but on the trend over time. Here it is:

The data is surprisingly variable and hard to read, but you can run a trendline through it. Here’s a summary of the trendline changes since 1980 in percentage points:

  • Age 18-34: up +1 pp
  • Age 35-49: up +6 pp
  • Age 50-64: up +10 pp
  • Age 65+: up +6 pp

There is, for some reason, a huge, decline and recovery in abortion support between 1995-2010 among the youngest age group, but in the end, virtually no change since 1980. It’s actually the older age groups that have changed the most.

Perhaps this is on the cusp of changing, but given the long-term trends and the year-to-year variability of opinions, I’m sort of skeptical. If I find more data that directly shows abortion attitudes by age group, I’ll pass it along.

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In this election year unlike any other—against a backdrop of a pandemic, an economic crisis, racial reckoning, and so much daily crazy—Mother Jones' journalism is driven by one simple question: Will America move closer to, or further from, justice and equity in the years to come?

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