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Measuring hot-button issues

 Professor Dennis Gilbert and students Karen Richardson '06 and Nathan Vandergrift '08. Professor Dennis Gilbert and students Karen Richardson '06 and Nathan Vandergrift '08 at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C.

A national poll of U.S. high school seniors shows a liberal attitude on homosexuality but more conservative opinions on issues surrounding abortion.

According to a national poll conducted by researchers at Hamilton and Zogby International, this year's high school graduates regard abortion as morally wrong and would severely limit a woman's right to choose. Some 70 percent of females in the class of 2006 say they would not consider abortion if they became pregnant while in high school. However, high school seniors are twice as likely as adults to support legal recognition of gay marriages. The poll on hot-button political issues also found that support for strong handgun control measures is almost universal among those surveyed.

Hamilton Sociology Professor Dennis Gilbert and his students collaborated with the polling firm Zogby International to conduct the national Hot-Button Issues Poll. High school seniors were selected for this eighth in the Hamilton Youth Poll series as representatives of a rising generation of Americans and potential voters in November. One thousand high school seniors from across the country were contacted by phone for the study. The poll was funded by Hamilton's Arthur Levitt Public Affairs Center.

The conservatism of the class of 2006 on abortion was the major surprise in the poll, Gilbert said, since previous youth polls had shown high school students to be typically liberal on public issues.

"Sixty-two percent of seniors told us that they want the Supreme Court to preserve the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision guaranteeing a woman's right to abortion. About half described themselves as 'pro-choice' and said they believe that abortion should be legal in 'all' or 'most' cases," Gilbert said. "But their answers to more detailed questions reveal that the great majority of seniors would significantly restrict access to abortion. For example, two-thirds would require parental ­permission before a woman under the age of 18 could legally obtain an abortion."

On another hot-button issue -- homosexual relationships -- students were supportive with three-quarters favoring legal recognition of same-sex relationships, either as marriage or civil union.

"On the gay issue, I just think they've just grown up in a different time. There's a lot more openness about being gay, and I don't think it's something that bothers most high school seniors," Gilbert told a reporter at the National Press Club where the results were released in early January.
 

Other statistical findings include:
  • The majority of students surveyed do not believe that a woman who is poor and unable to afford another child should have a legal right to an abortion.
  • 63 percent support adoption by gay couples.
  • 35 percent say they know of someone at their school who has been shot or threatened with a gun.
  • About 90 percent would impose a five-day waiting period and mandatory registration on purchasers of handguns.

Previous Hamilton Youth Poll topics have included patriotism, Muslim America, gay issues and rights, guns, and racial attitudes.

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