Wirthlin Poll finds 80% of U.S. adults want federal obscenity laws enforced, and 68% say government is not doing the job

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NEW YORK (October 1, 1997)  — An overwhelming 80% of Americans believe the Federal obscenity laws against hard-core pornography should be vigorously enforced, and 68% believe the Federal government is not vigorously enforcing them, according to a national telephone poll conducted by Wirthlin Worldwide September 19-21 for Morality in Media.

In its report, Wirthlin concluded, “While public opinion clearly indicates that the vigorous enforcement of pornography legislation is preferred by a majority of Americans, the current perception is that enforcement levels are not living up to that expectation. The majority of men (66%) and women (69%), regardless of age, feel that the government is not vigorously enforcing the current legislation.”

The two questions relating to Federal obscenity laws were included in a Wirthlin poll of a random sample of Americans age 18 and older.  Morality in Media President Robert Peters said this of the poll findings:

“The results of this poll should greatly encourage every elected and appointed Federal official concerned about the explosive increase in the availability of hardcore pornography, whether these officials are in the White House, Justice Department, Postal and Customs Services, or the 93 U.S. Attorneys’ offices.”This poll should also help dispel the false notion that the widespread availability of hardcore porn is proof of community acceptance. Most Americans do not want their nation and their communities to drown in a floodtide of illegal obscenity. What they want is vigorous enforcement of the constitutional Federal obscenity laws to dam up the flood, and they are correct in their belief that these laws are not now being vigorously enforced.”

Those polled were read this brief description of Federal obscenity laws:

“Federal obscenity laws prohibit the importation, mailing, interstate distribution, broadcasting, cablecasting, computer transmission and telephone transmission of hardcore pornography. Federal law also prohibits the local retail sale of hardcore pornography if the local merchant is engaged in the business of selling obscene material and the material has been transported in interstate commerce.”

They were then asked, “Do you think federal obscenity laws against hard-core pornography should be vigorously enforced, or not?”

Backing for vigorous enforcement was found in all demographic groups, including women (87%), men (72%), high school graduates (85%), college graduates (82%), whites (81%), blacks (78%), singles (72%), married people (83%), married with children (85%), married without children (69%), Catholics (82%), Baptists (80%) “born again” Christians (85%), Republicans (79%), Democrats (77%), Independents (85%), those who approve the President’s job performance (80%) and those who do not (81%).

Support for enforcement was highest among 18-to-34-year-old women, at 90%, but “only 60% of men in the same age group agree,” Wirthlin reported. This was “the most striking difference in support levels” among age cohorts.

Other demographic highlights of responses to the first question:

  • Regionally, support for vigorous enforcement is highest in the Mid-Atlantic, at 85%, and lowest in the Farm Belt, at 70%.
  • Respondents who identified themselves as Catholics, Baptists, “other Christian,” or “born-again Christian” all support vigorous enforcement by more than 80%. Those described as “other non-Christian” support vigorous enforcement by 73%.
  • 85% of respondents with children support vigorous enforcement of the Federal obscenity laws “while only 69% of both single and married individuals without children are supportive.”

The second question was this: “Based on your own opinion, would you say that federal obscenity laws are currently being vigorously enforced, or are they not?”

The perception that federal anti-porn enforcement levels are not living up to expectations was widespread among demographic sub-groups, according to the Wirthlin poll report:

  • The majority of men (68%) and women (69%), regardless of age, feel that the government is not vigorously enforcing the Federal obscenity laws.
  • 78% of single parents believe that vigorous anti-porn enforcement is not taking place. This perception is shared by 67% of married respondents and 70% of divorced or separated individuals.
  • As education levels increase, so, too, does the perception that the government is not pursuinga vigorous enforcement approach. This perception is shared by 60% of those with some high school education, 70% of high school graduates, 69% of college graduates and 73% with post-graduate education.
  • Whites (69%) are more likely than blacks (60%) and other minorities (67%) to feel that the government is not vigorously enforcing the obscenity.
  • Regionally, respondents in the Mountain (78%), Pacific (73%), Outer South (70%) and Great Lakes (70%) areas are more likely to respond that there is not vigorous enforcement going on, with those in the Farm Belt (53%) and New England (54%) less likely to see a lack of vigorous enforcement; those in the Mid-Atlantic (67%) and Deep South (65%) fall in the mid-ground on this question.
  • Party identification is not significantly linked to perceptions regarding enforcement, although Democrats (70% slightly edge both Republicans (67%) and Independents (66%) in feeling that current government enforcement is not vigorous.

The Wirthlin Worldwide survey research company, based in McLean, Virginia, conducted the survey via telephone among a randomly selected sample of 1,078 American men and women aged 18 and older, between September 19 and September 21, 1997. The margin of error is plus or minus 3%.

Author: MIM   10/01/1997

The Numbers


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