Polling released over the past few weeks has revealed what may be seismic shifts in American morality. On virtually every issue, American public opinion has shifted to the left. The most recent polling, released today by Gallup, show that the country has moved left on abortion and approval of out-of-wedlock births.
Today, a poll on attitudes about abortion showed that half of Americans consider themselves pro-choice for the first time since 2012. The Gallup poll showed that the percentage of Americans who identify as pro-life has declined to 44 percent, its lowest point since 2008. 2009 was the first year in which pro-life polled higher than pro-choice. Attitudes on abortion are still much more divided than they were in the 1990s.
The poll does not define pro-choice and pro-life, but 29 percent of respondents indicated that abortion should be legal in all circumstances. The plurality, 36 percent, said that abortion, should be legal in only a few circumstances.
Another Gallup poll released today revealed increasingly divergent attitudes on out-of-wedlock births. Sixty-one percent now believe that it is morally acceptable to have a baby outside of marriage. Only 35 percent call out-of-wedlock births immoral. Opinions on extramarital births have diverged widely since 2002, the last year that a majority called them immoral.
The shift has come as the percentage of out-of-wedlock births has increased dramatically. In 2014, the Washington Post reported that Census figures show that less than 60 percent of first-time births are to married couples. The Census report noted that “women with a nonmarital [sic] first birth are both less likely to ever marry and less likely to remain married if they do marry” and also links unmarried births to higher risks of poverty, lower educational attainment and family instability.
Today’s polling comes on the heels of increased support for doctor-assisted suicide, also from Gallup. Sixty-eight percent of respondents now support a right to die when a person has an incurable disease and is in severe pain. Only 28 percent are opposed. After remaining close for years, opinion on doctor-assisted euthanasia has diverged since 2013.
The biggest shift in public opinion is related to homosexuality and gay marriage. Gallup reports that a record high of 60 percent now supports gay marriage. Only 37 percent disagree. As recently as 1999, the numbers were almost completely reversed with 62 percent opposed and 35 percent in favor of redefining marriage.
Likewise, by 51 – 30 percent, most Americans now believe that homosexuals are born gay, not created by upbringing or environment. On this issue, Gallup’s numbers have also reversed since the 1990s. In reality, scientific proof that homosexuality is inherited genetically has been hard to find. It is even harder to find a genetic explanation for bisexuals, which make up approximately half of the gay and lesbian community.
On a similar issue, Gallup found that respondents greatly overestimated the number of gays in the US. Only 3.8 percent self-identify as gay or lesbian, but poll respondents believed that 23 percent of Americans were gay.
In general, the recent Gallup polling shows that social liberals are now equal in number with social conservatives in the United States. Since 1999, the percentage of social conservatives has declined while social liberals have increased. Both factions now stand equal at 31 percent.
The polling shows that the sample trended more liberal on virtually every issue since 2001. The largest shifts occurred on gay and lesbian relations (considered moral by 23 percent more in 2015 than in 2001), extramarital births (16 percent more), extramarital sex (15 percent more), divorce (12 percent more) and stem cell research using human embryos (12 percent more). Other issues with a large shift included polygamy (nine percent increase) and cloning humans (eight percent).
Some issues are considered less moral today than 14 years ago. Support for the death penalty declined by three percent, but a majority (60 percent) still approve. Support for medical testing on animals declined by nine percent to 56 percent approval.
Some of the shift in public opinion may be explained by the sample. The poll was conducted from May 6-10, 2015 with 1,024 adults, aged 18 or older, living in the 50 states and the District of Columbia. Since all of the findings stem from the same poll, if there is an error in providing an accurate sample or weighting the responses, the findings could have been skewed to the left. Nevertheless, these findings do support other polling that shows social attitudes moving to the left on several issues.