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Young People Set to Impact the Debate on Women’s Health Issues

On Abortion, Double-Digit and Widening Divides Between Young Americans and Seniors

On Sexual Harassment and Assault, Americans Divided by Party and Gender Over Whether Unreported or Disbelieved Experiences Are a Larger Problem Than False Accusations

WASHINGTON (April 17, 2018) – A new PRRI poll out today on a range of reproductive rights and women’s health issues shows stark generational divisions. On questions of personal beliefs about abortion, access to abortion, and availability of abortion services, young and older Americans are deeply divided. In the wake of the #MeToo movement, the poll shows sharp gaps by political affiliation, gender, and age on issues of sexual harassment and assault, including whether unreported or disbelieved real experiences are more serious than false accusations, and whether such assault claims stem primarily from misunderstandings between men and women.

Large and Widening Generational Divides on Abortion and Reproductive Rights

PRRI’s poll finds young Americans (18-29 years old) are reshaping the national conversation around abortion as they come into their own as a political force. Approximately one-third of young Americans today say their views on abortion have changed in recent years. Nearly three times as many young Americans say they have become more supportive of abortion rights rather than more opposed (25 percent vs. nine percent). Conversely, seniors (age 65 and up) are twice as likely to say they have become more opposed (12 percent) than more supportive (six percent). These trends translate to significant generation gaps:

  • Just 44 percent of young Americans say abortion goes against their personal beliefs, compared to 60 percent of Americans over 65.
  • Nearly two-thirds (65 percent) of young people, compared to 51 percent of seniors, agree that abortion should be legal in most or all cases.
  • Nearly seven in ten (69 percent) young people, compared to 46 percent of seniors, agree that at least some health care professionals in their community should provide legal abortions.

“The relative stability of attitudes in the general public towards the legality and availability of abortion over the past few years has masked a growing polarization of opinion between younger and older Americans,” said PRRI CEO Dr. Robert P. Jones. “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.”

Younger and older Americans also have different perceptions of how difficult it is to access abortion services in their communities. Among Americans overall, 38 percent say obtaining an abortion in their community is somewhat or very difficult, compared to 46 percent who say it is not too difficult or not at all difficult. Nearly half (49 percent) of young Americans, compared to 35 percent of seniors, say abortions are somewhat or very difficult to obtain in their communities. Notably, seniors (26 percent) are far more likely than young people (seven percent) to say they are not sure how difficult it would be to get an abortion in their community.

Additional Reproductive Rights Findings

  • Health Care Coverage: While Americans are sharply divided over whether health care plans should generally cover abortion services (43 percent favor, 53 percent oppose), a majority (52 percent) of young adults, compared to 42 percent of seniors, say abortion services should be covered by most health care plans. There are no significant gender differences on this question.
  • Electoral Importance: Few Americans say abortion is a litmus test issue when choosing a candidate to support. Approximately one in five (18 percent) Americans say they would only vote for a candidate who shared their views on abortion, compared to 47 percent who say they consider the issue one of many important factors. Fewer than one-third (31 percent) say abortion is not a major issue in how they decide to vote.
  • Priority for Lawmakers: This lower priority explains why 70 percent of Americans, including 74 percent of Democrats and 64 percent of Republicans, agree that lawmakers are spending too much time on the issue of abortion at the expense of other issues. About one in four Americans (27 percent) disagree.

Gender Gap Persists in Attitudes Towards Sexual Assault and Harassment

PRRI’s new survey finds that men and women, across subgroups, have significantly different perceptions of the problem of sexual assault and harassment. By a margin of more than two to one, Americans overall say real experiences of sexual assault or harassment that go unreported or not believed are a bigger problem in the U.S. today than false accusations (65 percent vs. 26 percent). However, nearly one-third of all men (32 percent), compared to only 21 percent of all women, say false accusations are the more pressing issue.

“Republican men are divided over whether false accusations or failures to address actual incidences of sexual violence are a bigger problem in the United States,” said Dr. Carolyn Davis, PRRI Director of Strategic Engagement and co-author of the report. “Given this, the party is not likely to prioritize effectively combatting sexual harassment or assault unless the women of the party push the GOP to action.”

There are stark partisan divides over whether unreported or disbelieved experiences of sexual harassment or assault are a bigger problem than false accusations. Seventy-eight percent of Democrats, compared to 65 percent of independents and only a slim majority (52 percent) of Republicans, say unreported or disbelieved instances are the bigger issue.

Yet significant gender gaps again exist within these partisan views. Whereas Republican women’s attitudes are closer to those of the general public about what represents a bigger problem today (58 percent unreported or disbelieved experiences of sexual assault or harassment; 32 percent false accusations), Republican men are nearly evenly divided. Among Republican men, less than half (47 percent) say unreported or disbelieved real experiences of sexual assault or harassment are the bigger problem, compared to 41 percent who say false accusations are the bigger problem. Moreover, more than one in ten Republican men are noncommittal on this question, saying that both or neither are the problem (four percent) or that they do not know (nine percent).

Gender gaps also exist among Democrats and independents, although men and women are on the same side of the issue in these groups. Eighty-four percent of Democratic women but 69 percent of Democratic men, and 72 percent of independent women but 59 percent of independent men, see unreported or disbelieved sexual harassment or assault experiences as a bigger problem than false accusations.

Younger Americans stand apart from older Americans here too: Sixty-nine percent say sexual assault or harassment that is unreported or is not believed is a bigger problem than false accusations, compared to 57 percent of seniors.

Americans Reject Idea That Sexual Harassment Claims Are “Just Misunderstandings”

Nearly seven in ten (69 percent) Americans disagree that sexual harassment claims are just the result of misunderstandings between men and women, compared to roughly one-quarter (27 percent) who agree. More than seven in ten (73 percent) women and nearly two-thirds (66 percent) of men reject the idea that sexual harassment claims are primarily due to misunderstandings.

There are significant differences by both age and political affiliation. Young Americans (76 percent) are more likely than seniors (64 percent) to disagree that most sexual harassment claims are the result of misunderstandings between men and women. Strong majorities of Democrats (79 percent), independents (69 percent), and Republicans (60 percent) disagree that sexual harassment claims are just the result of a misunderstanding; more than one-third (36 percent) of Republicans agree.

Other Notable Findings

  • STI Testing: Americans nearly unanimously (92 percent) agree that most health insurance plans should cover testing and screening for sexually transmitted infections (STIs), like HIV.
  • Health Insurance: There is also broad agreement that health insurance plans should cover prescription birth control (85 percent) and infertility treatments (72 percent).
  • Government Health Insurance and Prescription Contraception: Eighty-three percent of Americans believe that government health insurance programs for low-income women, like Medicaid, should cover the cost of prescription contraception. Only 15 percent say these services should not be covered.


The survey was designed and conducted by PRRI and made possible by a generous grant from the Nathan Cummings Foundation and additional support from an anonymous donor. Results of the survey were based on bilingual (Spanish and English) RDD telephone interviews conducted between March 14, 2018 and March 25, 2018 by professional interviewers under the direction of SSRS. Interviews were conducted among a random sample of 2,020 adults 18 years of age or older living in the United States (1,210 respondents were interviewed on a cell phone). The margin of error for the survey is +/- 2.6 percentage points at the 95% level of confidence. The design effect for the survey is 1.4.


PRRI is a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization dedicated to conducting independent research at the intersection of religion, culture, and public policy.