Mansfield Fox

Law student. Yankees fan. Massive fraggle. Just living the American dream.

Tuesday, January 27, 2004

THE YOUTH OF AMERICA AND ABORTION There's an interesting poll Newsweek poll on the political attitudes of Americans aged 18-29. While I'm skeptical of opinion polls in general, and Newsweek polls in particular, I'll accept, for the sake of argument, that the numbers here are valid. There's lots of good stuff about gay marriage, Iraq, etc., but one thing that struck me was the attitude of people of my generation towards abortion. We were evenly split (50% for, 49% against) on the issue of whether there ought to be a ban on abortions with a "rape, incest, life of the mother" exception. But 60% said they supported Roe v. Wade, whereas only 38% oppose it.

Newsweek's spin on this is that the young are weary of re-fighting the culture war:

"The obvious distinction between opposition to abortion and opposition to Roe indicates that while young voters may not be altogether comfortable with abortion, they are wary of re-engaging in the fiery battles of the past."

But isn't another hypothesis equally plausible? Isn't it possible that at least some people of my generation are sufficiently historically or legally ignorant that they don't understand what Roe actually says? Isn't it possible that the 10% of people who favor a ban on virtually all abortions but also say they support Roe don't actually understand that the latter makes the former impossible? Maybe they think that before Roe it was unconstitutional for states not to ban abortions.

Honestly, given how we're always hearing about how college students can't answer simple questions about American history, or don't understand basic things about how the government works, why shouldn't we think that some percent of people polled don't actually understand what the actual holding of Roe v. Wade is? No offense to Newsweek, but isn't that a somewhat more plausible explanation of the poll results than the idea that young people are desperate not to re-fight the culture wars, and are willing to accept heavy cognitive dissonance as the price? Don't get me wrong: I'm not eager to re-fight the culture wars, and I doubt that most of my co-generationists are either. But, following William of Occam, shouldn't we look to plain old garden-variety ignorance before constructing elaborate theories to explain odd poll results?