Rethinking the liberal/conservative divide
June 9th, 2011
The Public Religion Research Institute has released its latest survey, Millennial Generation Committed to Availability, Conflicted about Morality of Abortion. While this poll is focused primarily on opinions about abortion, for comparative purposes it also asked questions about same-sex marriage. Their conclusions are fascinating and probably much more news-worthy than anything they had to say about abortion.
While after reading their report their observations seem obvious, they run counter to what we have become conditioned to believe.
We have, for decades, bought into the idea that opinions about homosexuality and same-sex marriage are part and parcel of the liberal/conservative divide. That growing leniency on “social issues” meantgreater sympathy for immigrants, a greater respect for a woman’s right to choose whether to carry a fetus to term, greater desire for racial inclusion, and greater tolerance for gay people, including their right to full marriage rights. This has been the theory which has driven coalition politics and created alliances between organizations with little in common other than those who opposed their objectives.
And those who daily strive to return America to some Golden Age of Heterosexual Supremacy have also labored under the same assumptions. Labeling themselves as “pro-family”, they broke society into two camps: liberals who wanted unfettered abortion, polygamy, perversion, and the destruction of Western Civilization by means of gay marriage; and conservatives who love America, family, and God. (This mindset even explains GOProud, the very tiny organization of gays who oppose gay rights because they perceive that opposing equality is part of being “conservative”).
But it seems that we all were wrong. It seems that for at least the two issues of abortion and marriage equality, Americans (and especially younger Americans) see these as distinct and separate issues not irrevocably linked by a sense of liberal or conservative identity.
In recent election cycles the so-called “values voter” agenda has often been distilled to abortion and same-sex marriage. Yet these two controversial topics are no longer necessarily linked in the minds of Americans. The gap is particularly notable among the Millennial generation, who support rights for gay and lesbian Americans at rates much higher than their parents but whose generally supportive views on the legality of abortion do not deviate significantly from their parents or the general public.
[Our investigation of Rekers’ “Kraig” and the story of his alterego Kirk Murphy resulted in a significant increase in traffic. The resulting required change in servers has us a little in-between, and consequently we can’t upload new images. There are some informative graphics in the report, starting on Page 8. Please view them there, as I cannot yet provide them here. Thanks, Timothy]
It also appears that the disconnect between abortion and marriage as identity-driven social issues is highly dependent on age. This disparity is likely to increase over time as Millennials (those born in the 80’s) and younger enter society and take their place in politics. While abortion positions do not waver significantly by age, younger Americans are dramatically more supportive of same-sex marriage than are older Americans.
This will prove a challenge to many in our community and its political leadership. Those who view the gay community as a subset of the Democratic Party and a coalition partner in a progressive political alliance may come to find that this approach hinders their abilities in approaching the growing number of conservative, religious, or Republican gay allies.
If they are unable or unwilling to change to meet the new realities, others will rise up who will.