Polling the political debate on the legalization of prostitution

Caroline OsseDigital Content
March 23, 2012, 1:27 PM GMT+0

With recent investigations into the New York “Millionaire Madam” Anna Gristina and her operation, prostitution has been a consistent headliner in the media recently. With John Edwards being the latest name-drop involving the notorious NYC prostitution ring in the Upper East Side, the issue has become only more present in recent political and social discussion.

In response to these current events, we asked Americans how they felt about the legalization of prostitution. Out of all of the respondents, nearly half (48%) definitely or probably think that prostitution should be illegal; 38% believe it should be definitely or probably legalized and 13% are unsure.

For those who support legalization, their justifications are quite evenly distributed between an expectation of better-regulated health control, the reduced exploitation of underage and vulnerable people, and a desire to see the industry’s income taxed. Respondents in households receiving $100K+ in annual income are most concerned with the industry enforcing income taxes; 39% of them think that this is the most important reason for legalization.  Only 11% of respondents supporting legalization give their support primarily because they think it would reduce the influence of organized crime; 17% of Northeasterners share this as their main concern in comparison to only 5% of those living in the West. 

Political ideology is clearly a strong indicator of views on this topic. Over half of self-identified Liberals (56%) support legalizing prostitution; 42% of Moderates and 33% of Conservatives would agree.  From those pro-legalization respondents, only 9% of Liberals think that legislation would primarily reduce the influence of organized crime. However, 35% of Liberals supporting legalization believe that the main benefit of legalization is better-regulated health controls.

A majority of women (57%) and 40% of men oppose legalization. Of those who think prostitution should be illegal, 44% of women and 43% of men believe that prostitution is morally wrong. Only 5% of all respondents who are anti-legalization have the primary concern of pro-legislation increasing the industry’s demand.  For the younger respondents (ages 18-29), as well as Liberals and those earning $100K+ in annual household income, most share the major concern about prostitution’s health aspect (STDs and AIDS in particular).