The federal government might have moved to the right with the election of Donald Trump, but a new poll shows that the country is drifting further left on moral issues. The poll by Gallup shows that Americans are the most liberal that they have ever been on a host of issues.
Of the 19 topics polled, Gallup reports that 10 were at the most liberal or permissive points on record. These include birth control, divorce, sex between unmarried people, gay or lesbian relations, having a baby outside of marriage, doctor-assisted suicide, pornography and polygamy.
Conversely, two topics were also at historic lows for approval. Fewer Americans than ever before approve of the death penalty and medical testing on animals.
Gallup notes that the leftward trend is not new. The poll has shown a liberal shift in 2014 and 2015. None of the issues polled has shown a conservative trend in that time. Gay/lesbian relations show a 23-point increase in approval since the question was first asked. Having a baby outside of wedlock, sex outside of marriage, divorce and polygamy also show double-digit increases in approval. Only one issue, medical testing on animals, shows a double-digit decrease in approval.
The issue with the highest approval rating was birth control, which had support from 91 percent of respondents. Divorce and sex between unmarried adults also had approval from more than two-thirds of those polled (73 and 69 percent respectively).
The most unpopular issue was extramarital affairs, which had the approval of only nine percent. Cloning humans (14 percent) and polygamy (17 percent) rounded out the bottom three. The 17 percent approval for polygamy represented a record high.
Abortion is still one of the most divisive issues in the country. Forty-three percent consider abortion to be morally acceptable while 49 percent disagree. Approval for abortion has increased by one point since the question was first asked.
The poll underscores the difficulty Republicans face on moral issues. While the Republican economic message seems to resonate with many voters, those same voters tend to lean Democrat on social issues. While conservatives are holding ground on abortion, they are losing the culture war on a great many other issues.
There are two potential strategies for dealing with the liberal trends on social issues. The first and most obvious way would be for Republicans to deemphasize social issues and concentrate on their economic agenda. This strategy may partly explain the victory of Donald Trump in northern, socially liberal states. A GOP that takes this course might look more libertarian in the future.
A second alternative would be for conservatives to make the case for their moral viewpoint. In a nation that is increasingly secular, simply stating that something is wrong because the Bible says so is not an effective tactic. Instead, conservatives should take a practical, evidence-based approach that says, for example, that having children outside of marriage is wrong because it makes it more likely that they will grow up in poverty. The Breakpoint ministry, founded by Chuck Colson, has done of excellent job of explaining the Christian – not necessarily conservative – worldview for decades.
Because many liberal viewpoints are destructive economically and culturally, the move left also signals that, as Chuck Colson was fond of saying, salvation will not arrive on Air Force One. Without a change in social strategy from Republicans, increasingly liberal moral views may provide Democrats with an opportunity for a political comeback while at the same time making many national problems, such as the entitlement crisis, worse. Without a change in national attitudes at the grassroots level, lasting conservative reform will be impossible to achieve.