Most Americans Oppose Lowering Legal Drinking Age to 18 Nationwide

by Joseph Carroll

Six in 10 Americans support stricter penalties for underage drinking

GALLUP NEWS SERVICE

PRINCETON, NJ -- Americans' attitudes toward drinking alcohol show widespread opposition to lowering the drinking age to 18 in all states, and a majority supports making penalties for underage drinking stricter than they are now. These views have shown little change in the past six years. Younger adults are much more lenient than older Americans in their attitudes about drinking at younger ages, but still, a majority opposes a lower drinking age and opposes less strict penalties for drinking underage. Men and those who drink alcohol also tend to be more permissive in their views about the penalties for underage drinking.

Overall Results

The minimum legal drinking age has not always been consistent in this country. In the 1930s, almost all the states passed legislation stating that a person had to be at least 21 years old to purchase alcohol. Then, in the 1970s, many states lowered the legal drinking age to 18, 19, or 20. Many of these states upped the legal drinking age back to 21 as groups pressured states to take action because research showed higher fatality and accident rates among teenager drivers during this time period. By 1984, the legal drinking age nationwide was set at 21 when Congress passed a law that said states would be subjected to a decrease in federal funding for highways if the state did not enforce the minimum age of 21 for purchasing/possessing alcohol.

According to the July 12-15, 2007, poll, more than three in four Americans, 77%, say they would oppose a federal law that would lower the drinking age in all states to age 18. Just 22% of Americans would support such a law.

Further, 60% of Americans say the penalties for underage drinking should be made more strict, while 6% say less strict, and 31% say they should remain as they are now.

Americans' views about lowering the drinking age in all states to age 18 and the strictness of penalties for underage drinking are essentially the same now as they were when Gallup last asked these questions in 2001.

Younger vs. Older Americans

Americans between the ages of 18 and 34 are much more lenient in their views on underage drinking than those who are older. But, a majority of Americans in all age groups oppose a lower drinking age and making the penalties for drinking underage less strict.

Views on Underage Drinking by Age Groups
Jul 12-15, 2007

18- to
34-
year-
olds

35- to
54-
year-
olds

55 years
and
older

%

%

%

Lowering the drinking
age to 18 in all states

Favor

40

17

15

Oppose

59

82

84

Strictness of penalties
for underage drinking

More strict

43

57

72

Less strict

16

4

1

Remain as now

39

36

22

Among adults aged 18 to 34, 40% endorse a federal law to lower the drinking age across America to age 18; still, 59% of adults in this age range oppose such a law. Only about one in six adults who are older support lowering the legal drinking age in this country.

Forty-three percent of Americans between the ages of 18 and 34 say penalties for underage drinking should be made more strict. This percentage is much lower among older Americans, at 57% for those aged 35 to 54 and at 72% for those aged 55 and older.

Men vs. Women

Roughly equal percentages of men (75%) and women (79%) say they oppose a federal law to lower the drinking age to age 18 across the country. But, women are substantially more likely than men to say the penalties for underage drinking should be made more strict -- 72% of women support stricter penalties, compared with 48% of men. Forty percent of men say the penalties for underage drinking should remain as they are now.

Views on Underage Drinking by Gender
Jul 12-15, 2007

Men

Women

%

%

Lowering the drinking
age to 18 in all states

Favor

23

20

Oppose

75

79

Strictness of penalties
for underage drinking

More strict

48

72

Less strict

8

3

Remain as now

40

23

In regards to the strictness of penalties for underage drinking, the major gender variations are found among younger men (under age 50) and older women (aged 50 and older).

Older women also show somewhat greater opposition for legislation to lower the legal drinking age in America. Eighty-four percent of women aged 50 and older say they oppose legislation to lower the drinking age across the country, while roughly three in four younger women and men of any age share this sentiment.

Drinkers vs. Non-Drinkers

Americans who abstain from alcohol are much more likely than those who do imbibe to oppose lowering the drinking age across the country and to support stricter penalties for underage drinking more generally.

Views on Underage Drinking by Drinking Incidence
Jul 12-15, 2007

Drink alcohol

Do not
drink alcohol

%

%

Lowering the drinking
age to 18 in all states

Favor

25

16

Oppose

73

83

Strictness of penalties
for underage drinking

More strict

49

77

Less strict

6

5

Remain as now

42

14

Even though a majority of drinkers and non-drinkers oppose a federal law to lower the drinking age in all states to age 18, those who do not drink are slightly more likely than those who do to oppose such a law -- 83% to 73%, respectively.

Just about half of drinkers, 49%, say penalties for underage drinking should be more strict, while 6% say less strict, and 42% say they should remain as they are now. Among non-drinkers, more than three in four (77%) support stricter penalties for underage drinking, while only about one in five support current penalties or more lenient penalties for underage drinking.

Survey Methods

Results are based on telephone interviews with 1,001 national adults, aged 18 and older, conducted July 12-15, 2007. For results based on the total sample of national adults, one can say with 95% confidence that the margin of sampling error is ±3 percentage points. In addition to sampling error, question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of public opinion polls.

Would you favor or oppose a federal law that would lower the drinking age in all states to 18?

BASED ON 464 NATIONAL ADULTS IN FORM A

Favor

Oppose

No
opinion

%

%

%

2007 Jul 12-15

22

77

1

2001 Jul 19-22

21

77

2

Do you think the penalties for underage age drinking should be made more strict, less strict, or remain as they are now?

BASED ON 537 NATIONAL ADULTS IN FORM B



More
strict

Less
strict

Remain
as now

No
opinion

%

%

%

%

2007 Jul 12-15

60

6

31

3

2001 Jul 19-22

60

6

33

1

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Gallup http://www.gallup.com/poll/28237/Most-Americans-Oppose-Lowering-Legal-Drinking-Age-Nationwide.aspx
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