Public Attitudes Toward Pornography

Part: 
Four
Chapter: 
3

How does the public view pornography and have there been any changes in public opinion in the last fifteen years?

Survey data from a national public opinion poll on the issue of pornography were made available to the Commission by Newsweek magazine. The poll was conducted for Newsweek by the Gallup organization in March, 1985, and involved a sample size of 1020 respondents interviewed by telephone.[1119]

Comparisons between the Gallup data, where appropriate, will be made with the 1970 Commission survey (see Abelson, et. al., 1970) to examine any observable change.

The 1970 Commission survey used face-to-face interviews from February through April of 1970 with a random sample of 2,486 adults and 769 persons ages fifteen to twenty (Abelson, et. al., 1970). For purposes of comparison with the 1985 sample, only the data from the adult sample for 1970 will be used. The Newsweek-Gallup poll was a telephone survey of 1,020 adults conducted in March, 1985.

The 1970 survey was a far more wide-ranging survey covering a host of areas (including opinions on the effects of sexually-explicit material for which some directly comparable poll data are available from the Newsweek poll), the respondents' experiences with sexually explicit materials, opinions on different categories of sexual explicitness, attitudes toward legal and other forms of control, and attitudes toward different categories of sexual explicitness.

In contrast, the Newsweek-Gallup poll was much more limited, consisting of eight questions. For purposes of additional comparison, a 1977 national Gallup poll provides another trend point which allows comparisons with a 1985 question on the applicability of national versus local standards.

Any comparisons between the 1970 and 1985 findings should be made with caution, given the independence of both surveys and the fact that only a few questions were exactly alike. In those areas where questions were examining similar issues but were not worded the same, only the questions which were more narrowly defined for the 1985 survey were included and any resulting error would be on the side of conservatism. The distinctions between direct and indirect comparisons are carefully noted. A major objective is to note whether patterns observed in 1970 continue in 1985. Comparisons will be made in the three areas: (1) public exposure to sexually explicit materials; (2) perceptions of the effects of pornography; and (3) opinions on the regulation of pornography.

Notes

  1. Surveys such as this Gallup survey which employ "probability samples" are generally accurate within known limits. That is, the sample results can be applied to the population as a whole within the sampling tolerance ranges for a given sample size. For this survey sample size of 1020 respondents, sampling error is three percent. In practical terms, if we could contact every member of the population being described, the "real" percentage would be within plus or minus three percent of the observed percentage for the sample.