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The Gallup Poll
FOR RELEASE: Thur day, January 27, 1983
21-Year National Drinking-Age Law Backed By Large Majority Of Public
By George Gallup PRINCETON, N.J. If the American people were voting today in a nationwide referendum on a law making 21 the national minimum drinking age, the large majority, including young people, would vote “yes."
Adults of all ages express support for a uniform national drinking age. Even 18-, 19-, and 20-year-olds vote for the proposed legislation, by a 3-to-2 ratio. These young men and women would not be able to legally buy or drink alcoholic beverages if such a law were enacted. At present, 34 states and the District of Columbia permit adults under 21 to drink all or some forms of alcoholic beverage.
Drunk driving reportedly causes 25,000 auto fatalities and costs the nation some $24 billion each year. Some states which have taken tough measures to deal with drunk driving, including raising their legal drinking age, report sharp reductions in alcohol-related accidents.
One of the principal arguments for raising the legal age is that it would help prevent high-school seniors, many of whom are now of legal age, from buying alcoholic beverages for their younger schoolmates.
Gallup surveys have shown strong public support for raising the minimum drinking age in states where it is legal to drink at ages 18 or 19. However, a 1981 Gallup Youth Survey of 13-10-18-year-olds found that far fewer teenagers living in states with lower drinking ages favored raising the legal age, while in states with higher limits, many more teen-agers expressed a preference for lowering the drinking age.
Following is the question asked of adults in the latest survey and the key findings:
Do you favor or oppose a national law that would raise the legal drinking age in all states to 21?
National Drinking-Age Law
Favor Oppose No opinion
% % NATIONAL
18-20 years 21-29 years 30-49 years 50 and over
74 79 58 72 77 83
38 24 20 14
College education High school Grade school
70 80 78
28 17 14
East Midwest South West
82 78 70
2. 4 6 3
The strongest (6-10-1) backing for the proposal comes from persons 50 and older, with proportionately less support as age decreases. Thus, 83% of those 50 and older favor a national minimum-age law, compared to 77% of 30-to-49-year-olds, 72% of 21-10-29-year-olds, and 58% of 18-to-20-year-olds. Also, men and persons who attended college - population groups in which there is a high incidence of drinking - express somewhat greater opposition to the proposed law.
Accidents Decline When the 27th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution was ratified in 1971, giving 18-, 19-, and 20-year-olds the right to vote in national elections, many states lowered their minimum legal drinking age. This reflected the belief that if young people were old enough to vote, marry, and serve in the armed forces, they were mature enough to drink responsibly. However, with teen-agers disproportionately involved in alcohol-related auto accidents, state legislators have been reassessing their drinking-age laws. As recently as 1979, 12 states permitted 18-year-olds to drink; today only five do.
Spurred by parents of children killed in accidents involving drunk drivers, President Reagan last year named a 32-member commission to study the drunkdriving problem. One of the commission's key recommendations urged states to raise the legal age for buying or consuming alcoholic beverages to 21.
AMERICAN AUTOMOBILE ASSOCIATION
8111 GATEHOUSE ROAD, FALLS CHURCH VIRGINIA 22047 • 703 AAA-6000 • CABLE AMERAUTO • TELEX 89-9485
October 18, 1983
The Honorable James J. Florio
Transportation and Tourism
Dear Mr. Florio:
The American Automobile Association supports efforts to establish a minimum drinking age of 21 in the various states. AAA commends your concern regarding this issue.
As you are highly aware, statistics alone are dramatic enough to illustrate the need for action. Of the 25,000 Americans who have died each year from alcohol-related accidents, roughly 35 percent are between the ages of 16 and 24. It is no wonder that the Surgeon General has reported that life expectancy in this country has increased for every age group, with the exception of the 15-24 year olds.
AAA has long recognized that drunk driving has caused far too many traffic fatalities. We have been active in developing educational materials for almost 20 years to address the continuing problem of drinking and driving. As more research results have become available, we have responded by providing educational programs for younger and younger students because the problem is starting earlier. Our latest program addresses attitudes towards alcohol for school children in grades K-6.
of course, we realize that other measures are necessary and desirable to combat such a complex problem. One of the policies our organization has worked to achieve is a uniform drinking age of 21. We feel this is essential in bringing down the level of drunk driving in young people, and it appears that studies have supported our belief. Especially positive results were shown in Michigan, where a 31 percent decrease in alcohol-related deaths (among 18 to 20 yearolds) resulted from raising the drinking age to 21.
In our view, a uniform drinking age would eliminate the problem of teenagers crossing state lines to purchase alcoholic beverages, We intend to make substantial efforts, through AAA clubs across the country, to raise the drinking age to 21 in the various state legislatures. In light of the positive momentum created by heightened public awareness of the drunken driving problem we believe efforts on the state level will be fruitful in the near future,
We do, however, feel that the state legislatures are the most appropriate forums to address the issue of the drinking age. Mandates imposed by Washington often are resented by local citizens. Consequently, we believe that age 21 drinking laws will be more respected and adhered to if enacted by local legislatures rather than by federal fiat. This concern has also led us to strongly oppose the use of highway funding sanctions to require enactment of age 21 drinking laws, or for any other purpose.
Thank you for creating the opportunity for us, and the many other individuals and groups interested in this issue, to discuss the drinking age question.