While gay rights issues show a sharp generational divide, the abortion issue shows only modest differences.
Most Americans remain opposed to overturning the controversial U.S. Supreme Court decision in Roe v. Wade, which 40 years ago legalized abortion at least in the first three months of pregnancy, according to a poll released Wednesday.
The poll by the Pew Research Center found that 63 percent of Americans believe that Roe v. Wade should not be overturned, compared to 29 percent who believe it should be. These opinions have changed little from surveys conducted in 2003 and 1992, Pew reported.
Michael Dimock, director of the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press, said it is uncommon to see so little change in attitudes on a controversial issue.
"They really haven't changed a lot over the years which is kind of interesting because a lot of other social issues have changed a lot, gay marriage being the most notable example," said Dimock.
He noted that opinions on issues such as gay marriage sometimes have a sharp generational divide, with younger people more likely to favor it, so national feelings change over time.
But the abortion issue shows only modest generational differences.
Those most likely to favor upholding Roe v. Wade, at 69 percent, are the "baby boomers" aged 50-64, who were children or young adults when the case was decided on Jan. 22, 1973. This group was followed by those 18-29 years old, who favored upholding the decision by 68 percent.
Those 65 and older were most likely to favor overturning the decision, at 36 percent.
The poll also found that 53 percent of the U.S. public say the issue of abortion is not that important compared to other issues — the first time that number has been over 50 percent. Dimock said this may reflect Americans' current preoccupation with other issues, such as the national debt and gun control.
There are still wide religious differences over whether to overturn Roe v. Wade and the morality of abortion, the poll found. White evangelical Protestants are the only religious group in which a majority — 54 percent — favors overturning the decision.
Large percentages of white mainline Protestants (76 percent), black Protestants (65 percent) and white Catholics (63 percent) say the ruling should not be overturned.
Among the religiously unaffiliated, 82 percent oppose overturning Roe v. Wade.
About half of Republicans agreed the decision should not be overturned, by 48 to 46 percent. Most Democrats favor upholding the decision, by 74 percent.
The poll showed no gender gap in opinions about the decision, with nearly identical percentages of women and men opposing a reversal.
The results also show that 47 percent of Americans say they personally believe it is morally wrong to have an abortion. These opinions have changed only modestly in recent years, the survey found.
Not surprisingly, younger people are less likely to know what Roe v. Wade was about. While most respondents over 30 knew Roe v. Wade dealt with abortion, only 44 percent of those under 30 knew this, the poll found. The question over whether the decision should be overturned was asked after it was defined to respondents.
The poll was based on interviews with a national sample of 1,502 adults, aged 18 or over, with a margin of error of plus or minus 2.9 percentage points.
Full results of the poll can be seen here.