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In 1980, America greeted the Post-It note, the Rubik’s Cube, and the launch of CNN. Demographers and marketers also labeled it as the first year of the millennial generation, a group that today makes up about a quarter of the adult population.
Both political parties have a keen desire to tap into this generation's political and social leanings. During a quick back-and-forth on NBC's Meet the Press, Ralph Reed, conservative activist and chair of the Faith and Freedom Coalition, said millennials are hard to characterize. They are "more pro-life than baby boomers and older Americans," Reed said.
Political columnist Ron Fournier with National Journal quickly disagreed.
"Actually, that's not true. They're as pro-life," Fournier said.
Enter PunditFact to see what the survey data and the people who study it have to say. We’re checking Reed’s claim, that millennials are "more pro-life than baby boomers and older Americans."
The staff at the Faith and Freedom Coalition told us that the source behind Reed’s words is a 2010 survey commissioned by the Knights of Columbus, a Catholic organization opposed to abortion, and conducted by the Marist Institute for Public Opinion. The results showed that 58 percent of millennials felt that abortion is morally wrong, compared to 51 percent of boomers and 62 percent of seniors.
Right off the bat, we can say that Reed missed the mark. From the numbers in the study itself, seniors are slightly more opposed to abortion than millennials. Reed’s words track better with his comparison to the baby boomers.
However, Mary Griffith with the Marist Institute noted that asking someone whether abortion is morally acceptable or wrong is very different from asking if they consider themselves pro-life or pro-choice.
"It’s almost comparing apples to oranges," Griffith said. "You get very different results."
When Marist asked the pro-life/pro-choice question in 2013, millennials were least likely of all age groups to call themselves pro-life:
Baby boomer: 47%
Pollsters define these generations by the year they were born: Millennials - born after 1980; Generation X - 1965-1980; Baby boomers - 1946-1964; Seniors - 1928-1945.
Other organizations have also surveyed millennials and one, the Public Religion Research Institute, an academic research group in Washington, noted a paradox around the pro-life/pro-choice labels.
"A significant number of millennials identify with both," said Daniel Cox, research director at the institute. "65 percent of millennials claim the label ‘pro-life,' compared to 74 percent who claim the label ‘pro-choice.’ "
Still, at 65 percent, millennials in that survey were less likely than other groups to identify themselves as pro-life. Asked if "pro-life describes you well or somewhat well," a higher fraction of baby boomers -- 76 percent -- said yes, as did 72 percent of seniors.
Getting away from labels, many pollsters ask whether abortion should be legal in all or most cases. With that approach, the Public Religion Research Institute found millennials are much like the baby boomers, both at about 55 percent, while 43 percent of seniors take that view.
These results are similar to the ones from Gallup. In 2010, Gallup reported that millennials, Generation Xers and baby boomers equally supported or opposed abortion, and seniors were least likely of all groups to support it. However, Gallup also noted that over the years, support for abortion has slipped among all age groups.
A study just released by the Pew Research Center found that millennials were slightly more likely than boomers to say that abortion should be legal in all or some cases, but again, the results clustered in the same way:
Gen X: 59%
Baby boomer: 52%
If the surveys don’t back up Reed’s statement today, the views of millennials might be headed in a direction he would favor.
Melissa Deckman, a political scientist at Washington College, said there is evidence that if you ask millennials how they feel about abortion under specific circumstances, some of them show more misgivings about the procedure. Especially among Republican millennial women, support drops a bit when specific factors are part of the survey questions, such as the discovery of a serious birth defect in the fetus or the financial ability of the household to pay for a new child.
"They are trending slightly pro-life if you consider a wider range of restrictions to abortion," said Decker.
Reed said that millennial voters are more likely to be pro-life than baby boomers or seniors. Reed relied on a survey that asked about the morality of abortion. The institute behind that survey told us results were considerably different on the question of pro-life/pro-choice. Based on the latest results, millennials were least likely of all age groups to call themselves pro-life.
Across multiple surveys, there is no evidence that millennials are more likely to be pro-life than other generations. The general trend is that they are about equally pro-life as Gen-Xers and baby boomers, and consistently are less pro-life than seniors.
We rate the claim False.
NBC, Meet the Press, March 9, 2014
Knights of Columbus, New Survey Finds 84% of Americans Support Significant Abortion Restrictions, Jan. 21, 2014
Priests for Life, Marist Poll - Abortion, January 2010
Gallup, Generational Differences on Abortion Narrow, March 12, 2010
Pew Research Center, Millennials in adulthood, March 7, 2014
Public Religion Research Institute, Committed to availability, conflicted about morality, June 6, 2011
Ladd and Wilcox, Investigating the pro-life abortion policy preferences of the millennial generation, 2011
Email interview, Daniel Cox,research director, Public Religion Research Institute, March 10, 2014
Email interview, Melissa Deckman, professor, political science, Washington College, March 10, 2014
Email interview, Mary Griffith, media director, Marist Institute for Public Opinion, March 11, 2014
Email interview, Robert Potts, acting national field director, Faith and Freedom Coalition, March 10, 2014
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