Adventist Media Response and Conversation

Sunday, August 06, 2006

Pew Survey Shows Opinions Relatively Unchanged

The Oregon Pastor writes in It's not a Moral Majority -- just a very loud minority.

When it comes to "moral" issues --issues such as abortion or gay marriage -- most Americans are in the middle.

  • They don't like abortion, but want to keep it legal.
  • They don't like gay marriage, but favor some kind of "civil union" for gay couples.

What the articles ignores, however, is the power of these relatively small groups to set the agenda for the rest of us.

The Oregon Pastor’s statement that relatively small groups set the agenda is only true if we allow the courts to decide our laws. Something they were not designed to do. In fact the reason I am addressing this is because the Pew Survey Pragmatic Americans Liberal and Conservative on Social Issues points out just how distorted the concept is that the Religious right is indoctrinating America from the pulpit. The survey shows that there are not really any changes in American opinions on these controversial subjects in the past several years.

Indeed, public opinion has moved little on these issues in recent years and continues to be mixed and often inconsistent, reflecting a blend of pragmatism and principle. For instance, a clear majority (56%) continues to oppose allowing gays and lesbians to marry while 35% express support. But nearly as large a majority (54%) supports allowing homosexual couples to enter into legal agreements that would give them many of the same rights as married couples.

This reflects the idea that Americans do not want to have marriage redefined, however civil contracts are an accepted idea by a majority (small majority however which is true for most of the findings in these polls.)

Public opinion about the legality of abortion is largely unchanged from previous polling. While about one-in-three (31%) prefer for abortion to be generally available to those who want it and one-in-ten (11%) take the opposite position that abortion should not be permitted at all, most Americans fall in between, preferring what might be described as a "legal but rare" stance. One-in-five (20%) say that abortion should be available but under stricter limits than it is now, while about one-in-three (35%) say that abortion should be illegal except in cases of rape, incest or to save the woman's life.

Just as abortion opinions are largely stable, so too are differences of opinion on the issue across demographic, political and religious groups. As polls have often shown, there is no gender gap in opinion about the availability of abortion. College graduates and people in their 50s and early 60s ­ roughly the first half of the Baby Boom generation ­ are more supportive of making abortion generally available than are other demographic groups.

White evangelicals and black Protestants stand out for their high levels of opposition to abortion. Among seculars and those who rarely attend church, on the other hand, majorities say that abortion should be generally available.

As in 2005, a large majority of the public (73%) continues to view abortion as morally wrong in at least some circumstances, while only 24% say that abortion is not a moral issue. But slightly fewer now say that abortion is morally wrong in nearly all circumstances (24% now compared with 29% in 2005), while there has been a small increase in the number saying that abortion is morally wrong in some circumstances (49% today compared with 41% one year ago).

By a 56%-35% margin, a majority of Americans continues to oppose allowing gays and lesbians to marry legally. These figures are largely unchanged over the past several years.

One area that does show change is the Gay Marriage concept which understandably was not much of an issue just a few years ago.

While only one-in-three Americans (35%) oppose gay marriage, majorities do express support for civil unions. The poll finds that 54% of Americans favor allowing gay and lesbian couples to enter into legal agreements giving them many of the same rights as married couples. This figure, too, is largely unchanged compared with one year ago ­ but it is nine percentage points higher than it was in October 2003

When we look back prior to 2000 we see that Abortion opinions have been stable for many years. Homosexual marriage is not likely to have much poll results prior to 2000 as is also the case for federal financing of stem cell research which did not exist. Acceptance of homosexuality has probably changed to a more accepting view over the past decade. Causes and Consequences of Public Attitudes Toward Abortion:
A Review and Research Agenda Ted G. Jelen
Second, abortion opinion is relatively stable, both at the individual level, and in the aggregate. At the individual level, abortion opinion is almost as stable as partisanship (Converse and Markus, 1979; Wetstein, 1993; Wilcox and Norrander, 2002; Sharpe, 1999). At the aggregate level, abortion attitudes have also been remarkably stable over time (Wilcox and Riches, 2002).
Most studies (Cook, et. al, 1992; Wilcox and Norrander, 2002) show that a substantial minority of Americans favor abortion virtually without restrictions, and a smaller minority oppose abortion under most, if not all circumstances. Large majorities favor legal abortion for medical reasons (fetal defect, health of mother, etc.) while opinion is divided on abortion for social or economic reasons. Thus, numerous observers (Cook, et. al., 1992; O=Connor, 1996; Sullins, 1999) have reported the existence of a Asituationalist majority.@ In other words, a slight majority of Americans favor legal abortion under some circumstances, but not others.

There have been small, but statistically significant changes in aggregate opinion over time. After the Roe decision in 1973, support for abortion increased. Yet this overall increase masked an underlying polarization, for some groups of citizens became more opposed to abortion as a result of Roe (Franklin and Kosaki, 1993). During the 1980s, support for abortion dropped for reasons yet unexplained, and then rebounded in 1989, just before the Court handed down the Webster decision that permitted some state regulation of abortion. Wlezien and Goggin (1993) have argued that the public anticipated the Webster decision, perhaps based on signals sent by party and interest group elites. By the late 1990s, support had declined again.

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