Gallup: America leans left on social issues

There’s something happening here
What it is ain’t exactly clear
–Buffalo Springfield, “For What It’s Worth” (1967)

The Gallup Poll has had a pair of interesting poll results in the past week. Last week Gallup reported On Social Ideology, the Left Catches Up to the Right – Gallup:

Thirty-one percent of Americans describe their views on social issues as generally liberal, matching the percentage who identify as social conservatives for the first time in Gallup records dating back to 1999.

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Gallup first asked Americans to describe their views on social issues in 1999, and has repeated the question at least annually since 2001. The broad trend has been toward a shrinking conservative advantage, although that was temporarily interrupted during the first two years of Barack Obama’s presidency. Since then, the conservative advantage continued to diminish until it was wiped out this year.

The newfound parity on social ideology is a result of changes in the way both Democrats and Republicans describe their social views. The May 6-10 Gallup poll finds a new high of 53% of Democrats, including Democratic-leaning independents, describing their views on social issues as liberal.

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Democrats were more likely to describe their views on social issues as moderate rather than liberal from 2001 to 2005. Since then, socially liberal Democrats have outnumbered socially moderate Democrats in all but one year.

Meanwhile, the 53% of Republicans and Republican leaners saying their views on social issues are conservative is the lowest in Gallup’s trend. The drop in Republicans’ self-identified social conservatism has been accompanied by an increase in moderate identification, to 34%, while the percentage identifying as socially liberal has been static near 10%.

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These trends echo the pattern in Gallup’s overall ideology measure, which dates back to 1992 and shows increasing liberal identification in recent years. As with the social ideology measure, the longer-term shifts are mainly a result of increasing numbers of Democrats describing their views as liberal rather than moderate. That may reflect Democrats feeling more comfortable in describing themselves as liberal than they were in the past, as much as a more leftward shift in Democrats’ attitudes on political, economic and social issues.

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Americans’ growing social liberalism is evident not only in how they describe their views on social issues but also in changes in specific attitudes, such as increased support for same-sex marriage and legalizing marijuana. These longer-term trends may be attributable to changing attitudes among Americans of all ages, but they also may be a result of population changes, with younger, more liberal Americans entering adulthood while older, more conservative adults pass on. Gallup found evidence that population replacement is a factor in explaining changes in overall ideology using an analysis of birth cohorts over time.

Gallup followed up on this poll this week. Americans Continue to Shift Left on Key Moral Issues:

Americans are more likely now than in the early 2000s to find a variety of behaviors morally acceptable, including gay and lesbian relations, having a baby outside of marriage and sex between an unmarried man and woman. Moral acceptability of many of these issues is now at a record-high level.

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This latest update on Americans’ views of the moral acceptability of various issues and behaviors is from Gallup’s May 6-10 Values and Beliefs survey. The complete results for each of the 19 issues tested in this year’s survey appear at the end of the article. Gallup has tracked these moral issues in this format since the early 2000s.

The upward progression in the percentage of Americans seeing these issues as morally acceptable has varied from year to year, but the overall trend clearly points toward a higher level of acceptance of a number of behaviors. In fact, the moral acceptability ratings for 10 of the issues measured since the early 2000s are at record highs.

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These results reflect the same type of shift evident in the public’s self-reported ideology on “social issues.” More Americans now rate themselves as socially liberal than at any point in Gallup’s 16-year trend, and for the first time, as many say they are liberal on social issues as say they are conservative.

Key trends in Americans’ views of the moral acceptability of certain issues and behaviors include the following:

  • The substantial increase in Americans’ views that gay and lesbian relations are morally acceptable coincide with a record-high level of support for same-sex marriage and views that being gay or lesbian is something a person is born with, rather than due to one’s upbringing or environment.
  • The public is now more accepting of sexual relations outside of marriage in general than at any point in the history of tracking these measures, including a 16-percentage-point increase in those saying that having a baby outside of marriage is morally acceptable, and a 15-point increase in the acceptability of sex between an unmarried man and woman. Clear majorities of Americans now say both are acceptable.
  • Acceptance of divorce and human embryo medical research are also up 12 points each since 2001 and 2002, respectively.
  • Polygamy and cloning humans have also seen significant upshifts in moral acceptability — but even with these increases, the public largely perceives them as morally wrong, with only 16% and 15% of Americans, respectively, considering them morally acceptable.

Americans are becoming more liberal on social issues, as evidenced not only by the uptick in the percentage describing themselves as socially liberal, but also by their increasing willingness to say that a number of previously frowned-upon behaviors are morally acceptable. The biggest leftward shift over the past 14 years has been in attitudes toward gay and lesbian relations, from only a minority of Americans finding it morally acceptable to a clear majority finding it acceptable.

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This liberalization of attitudes toward moral issues is part of a complex set of factors affecting the social and cultural fabric of the U.S. Regardless of the factors causing the shifts, the trend toward a more liberal view on moral behaviors will certainly have implications for such fundamental social institutions as marriage, the environment in which children are raised and the economy. The shifts could also have a significant effect on politics, with candidates whose positioning is based on holding firm views on certain issues having to grapple with a voting population that, as a whole, is significantly less likely to agree with conservative positions than it might have been in the past.

There are reasonable comparisons to the “cultural revolution” of the 1960’s to the cultural revolution that is occurring today.

4 responses to “Gallup: America leans left on social issues

  1. I wouldn’t cheer too hard over the results of the because it sort of reflects people like me. I have more socially liberal views than I did 10 years ago, but I still consider myself staunchly conservative. I know many who think and act just like me. It doesn’t mean the Democrats are going to see a sudden upturn in voting their ticket. It just means that Republicans are going to have to soften their views on certain subjects. It is very easy to reconcile more socially liberal views and remain a conservative.

    • I agree with Steve in that the question to me is not does America lean left or right on particular issues (by the way America does, on nearly ALL issues asked about as simple issue questions not attached to anything else America leans left [see Pew studies]. But the real question is how do Americans vote? Many Americans are easily frightened by right wing rhetoric and will vote for a candidate far more to the right of their views than they are simply because of fear. The right and its billionaire dark money exploit that mercilessly. The real question is can people learn to vote on the issues according to their true views instead of on their fears? (A secondary question is whether Americans will be allowed to vote in a manner that will allow true proportional representation instead of being discouraged from voting by gerrymandered districts and winner take all voting systems. But we won’t discuss that here.)

      Still I disagree with Steve’s view of himself. he likes to think of himself as a leaning left socially, but having asked him about this before I don’t think he is left leaning on social issues and he certainly does not appear to support candidates that are more left than the Republican party view, which is a quite far toward the right end of the spectrum.

      That, by the way, is neither a good thing nor a bad thing about Steve, just what he is, and it is his right. I do think it is important for a person not to confuse a far right, right, center, and left views. To say that one is socially more left than one has been and yet one’s positions are still quite far to the right is a change that is effectively no difference.

      Examples: abortion rights, if someone says they don’t support banning abortions after 20 weeks without a rape or incest exception, yet still supports banning abortions after 20 weeks with rape and incest protection. Yes it is not a far right position, but it is still pretty much a right wing position, it is not centrist, the center does not support early banson abortion, and it is definitely not a left wing position. Maybe a person will say they Don’t support laws legalizing discrimination against gays, yet they also don’t support laws that would provide protection from discrimination for gays. This is Not a centrist or left wing position. The first position is commendable in that it is against an active harm and is not a far right position, but the second is definitely a right wing position because if you don’t protect vs discrimination then you are tacitly allowing it. In this case there isn’t really a center position. The center simply hasn’t formed an opinion.

  2. Jim Hannan

    And recent polling shows pro-choice at 50%, pro-life at 44%.

    http://www.vox.com/2015/5/29/8687325/gallup-abortion-pro-choice

  3. captain*arizona

    america leans center but the right has gone so far that that it looks left hillary center sanders left.