Poll Analysis: Americans Lean More Conservative on Social Issues

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Support for abortion rights has weakened, while Americans remain torn on gay rights.

Times Poll Asst. Director
     Nearly 30 years after the Supreme Court legalized abortion in Roe v. Wade, abortion continues to be a divisive issue that has Americans conflicted. They are evenly split on their views about this landmark case, and yet majorities believe both that abortion is murder and that it is a decision that should be made by a woman and her doctor.
     Additionally, while most Americans would like to see abortion outlawed˜with exceptions˜vast majorities also believe that making abortion illegal would not reduce the number of abortions in the United States, and a full two-thirds oppose a constitutional amendment banning abortion.
     In short, though Americans see abortion as a very personal decision, it is a topic that elicits strong opinions, and a legal procedure which they accept grudgingly, but would like to see restricted.
     In a similar conservative-leaning trend, while vast majorities of Americans support laws banning discrimination against gays, they are also split in their support for „gay rights‰ and also on whether the Boy Scouts have the right to exclude gays from their ranks.

     The latest national poll conducted by the Los Angeles Times from June 8ˆ13 found Americans to be torn on the issue of abortion, with equal numbers supporting and opposing the Roe v. Wade decision legalizing the abortion procedure.
     Americans were evenly split on their views on Roe v. Wade, with 43% favoring the Court decision and 42% opposing it. Men were slightly less divided in their views, with 42% supporting the decision and 39% opposing it. Forty four percent of women both supported and opposed the decision.
     Those most supportive of the decision were the most liberal and the most educated respondents, and the strongest opposition, not surprisingly, came from conservatives and those who were most religious.
     Americans were also split in their support for the legality of abortion:
      43% say abortion should always be legal
      46% say it should be illegal except for cases of rape, incest and to save the mother‚s life
      Just 8% say abortion should be illegal with no exceptions

     At the same time, respondents to the poll said that they agreed with the sentiment that no matter how they personally felt about abortion, it was ultimately a decision between a woman and her doctor:
      68% of all respondents agreed with this statement (73% of women and 63% of men)
      27% disagreed with it (23% of women and 31% of men)

     In fact, even conservatives, Republicans and highly religious respondents agreed with this statement. Only religious fundamentalists and Republican men disagreed.
     Additionally˜and corresponding with the nominal eight percent who want abortion outlawed in all circumstances˜a full two-thirds of Americans oppose adding an amendment to the Constitution that would ban abortion entirely.
     In juxtaposition, majorities also believe abortion is murder:
      57% agree that it is murder
      36% disagree

     Strikingly, even about a quarter of the strongest abortion rights supporters˜such as those who favor the Roe v. Wade decision, who think abortion should always be legal, and those who would consider having an abortion if they were confronted with an unplanned pregnancy˜agree that abortion is murder.
     The poll results also show that Americans are fairly adamantly opposed to the idea of abortion for their own daughters:
      52% would oppose their daughter‚s decision to have an abortion
      35% would support it

     Interestingly, those in the 45ˆ64 age range˜a group more likely to have a teenage or young adult daughter confronting an abortion decision˜are the most supportive of this type of decision:
      38% of 18ˆ29-year-olds would support their daughters‚ decision (49% would oppose it)
      34% of those 30ˆ44 would support the decision (55% oppose)
      41% of those 45ˆ64 would support the decision (51% oppose)
      26% of those 65+ would support the decision (55% oppose)

     Additionally, the poll results indicate strong variations by income levels, with wealthier respondents more likely to support their daughters if faced with the decision to have an abortion:
      22% of those with household incomes of less than $20,000 would support the decision
      34% of those with household incomes between $20,000 and $40,000
      37% of the $40,000 to $60,000 household incomes
      46% of those making over $60,000 would support their daughters

     More striking about the results of the poll is that support for abortion has eroded over the past decade showing that the switch in the anti-choice movement‚s tactics˜from all-out opposition to abortion to its piecemeal abrasion˜has been effective, at least in changing American sentiment if not in law.
     In the latest Times poll, Americans voiced support for laws that would restrict abortion except in cases involving the health of the mother or the fetus. For example:
      82% support requiring girls under 18 to get the consent of at least one parent before having an abortion (12% oppose that)
     49% support laws requiring the biological father‚s consent (38% oppose it)

     In contrast,
     85% say a woman should be able to get an abortion if her physical health is seriously endangered
      83% say a woman should be able to get an abortion in cases of rape or incest
      66% say she should be able to do so if she knows that there is a strong chance of a serious defect in the fetus

     Respondents in the poll also oppose laws that would expand or even equalize abortion rights among all socioeconomic classes:
      65% oppose legal abortions for the second trimester of a pregnancy (24% think it should be legal)
      57% oppose allowing a woman the possibility of getting a legal abortion if she does not feel her family can afford another child (35% support this possibility)
      54% oppose using public funds to help pay for abortions when women can‚t afford it (37% support this)

     However, despite strong support for the erosion of abortion rights, a vast majority of Americans (75%) do not think that making abortion illegal would succeed in reducing the number of abortions in the United States.
     Even those who oppose abortion altogether (54%) and those who support making abortion illegal with some exceptions (71%) do not think that rendering abortion illegal will make that procedure less frequent.
     Additionally, not withstanding a scraping away of abortion rights prevalent in the American psyche, views on RU-486, the „abortion pill‰ currently under scrutiny by the FDA, are divided, with 46% opposed to making RU-486 legal in the United States and 43% in favor of legalizing this pill.

Abortion on a More Personal Level
     While just under a quarter of respondents admit that abortion is an option they would consider if faced with an unplanned pregnancy, 52% say they themselves or someone they know has had an abortion. Of this 52%, a whopping two-thirds say that the abortion for the woman closest to them was the best solution for her situation at that time. Just 26% say that the woman regretted the abortion. Even conservatives (55%) believe that the abortion was the best solution.
     Importantly, Americans also distinguish between regret and guilt, as 73% also said that the woman closest to them who obtained the abortion felt a sense of guilt about her decision.
Knowing someone who has had an abortion also seems to humanize or legitimize abortion:
      53% of those who know someone who had an abortion favor Roe v. Wade (31% of those who do not know someone favor the law)
     53% of those who know someone think abortion should always be legal (32% of those who do not know someone)

Gay Rights
     The results of the poll also show a split on gay rights, with 38% saying they approve of rights for gays (including lesbians) and 40% saying they disapprove. However, strong opposition to gay rights is slightly stronger than strong support for those rights:
      21% strongly approve of gay rights
      33% strongly oppose gay rights

     The poll indicates that support for gay rights is closely tied to comfort levels with gays, with the 60% of those who are comfortable with gays more likely to approve of gay rights (48% approve, 31% disapprove) than those who are uncomfortable around gay people (28% of this group approves of gay rights, 57% disapproves).
     Women were also more accepting of gay rights than men, as were more educated respondents.
     Americans also voiced disapproval of sexual relations between members of the same sex, with just under two thirds saying that such relations are wrong (51% said „always‰ wrong), and with just 27% saying that gay relations were not wrong.
     At the same time, nearly two thirds said that they could accept gays living together as a married couple.
     Additionally, while conflicted on gay sexuality and torn on so-called rights for the gay community, Americans are emphatically against discriminating against someone for being gay, both in terms of housing and in terms of employment:
      68% favor laws banning job discrimination against gays (23% oppose such laws)
      66% favor laws banning housing discrimination (24% oppose them)

     Even conservatives and Republicans, the groups most opposed to gay rights, favor laws banning discrimination against gays. In fact, even those who say they are uncomfortable around gays do not want to see people discriminated against just for being gay.
     Continuing with the trend of not accepting gay lifestyle and yet opposing discrimination because of it, Americans are opposed to gay marriage (58%) but support benefits for gay couples such as tax breaks or health insurance (50%).

Boy Scouts
     Because the Supreme Court is currently considering a case involving a Boy Scout troop leader who was dismissed from the Scouts when he openly admitted he was gay, the poll delved into Americans‚ feelings on this issue, as well as their views of the Supreme Court in general.
     Just over half of all respondents (52%) gave the Supreme Court favorable ratings, while three in 10 said they disapproved of the way the Court is handling its job. A plurality feel that the Supreme Court is just about right in its decisions (39%):
     27% say the Court is too liberal
     19% say too conservative

     While most (54%) disagree with the statement, „A Boy Scout leader should be removed from his duties as troop leader if he is found out to be gay, even if he is considered by the Scout organization to be a model Boy Scout leader,‰ equal numbers say the Scouts have the right to exclude gays (47%) as say it is wrong to exclude gays (45%).
     Results did vary slightly if a respondent had or currently have kids who were involved in Scouting:
      43% of those with kids in Scouting agree that a leader should be removed from his duties if he is gay (47% disagree)
      32% of those who do not have kids in Scouting agree with removing a Scout leader for being gay (59% disagree)
      56% of those with children in Scouting agree that the Scouts should have the right to exclude gays (39% say excluding gays is wrong)
      43% of those who do not have children in Scouting agree that the Scouts should have this right (48% say excluding gays is wrong)

The State of the Union
     While a whopping three-quarters of Americans say that they think the country is morally off on the wrong track, just 7% cite abortion as the cause for this decline. More common reasons given for our moral decay included crime, the media, immorality or a lack of values and child violence.
     That such a majority sees the United States as being off in the wrong direction morally confirms the abortion and gay right sentiments that indicate a move to more conservative values. Correspondingly, nearly three quarters (74%) agree with the statement, „It is better for children if one parent works outside the home while the other parent stays home with the children.‰ More than half (55%) agree strongly.
     Similarly, even at a time when a majority of families have two-parent wage-earners (53% in the Times‚ poll), a plurality believe that women are better mothers if they stay home with their children (42%) over feeling that some women are better mothers when they are working because working makes them a happier and more fulfilled parent (38%).
     Of those with a female wage-earner contributing to the household income, 37% believe women are better mothers if they stay at home (46% believe that some women are better mothers when they are working). In contrast, 51% of respondents in households without a female wage earner say that women are better mothers when they stay at home (26% say some women are better mothers when working).

How the Poll Was Conducted
     The Times Poll contacted 2,071 adults nationwide, by telephone June 8ˆ13. Telephone numbers were chosen from a list of all exchanges in the nation. Random-digit dialing techniques were used so that listed and non-listed numbers could be contacted. The entire sample was weighted slightly to conform with census figures for sex, race, age, education and region. The margin of sampling error is plus or minus 2 percentage points. For certain subgroups the error margin may be somewhat higher. Poll results can also be affected by other factors such as question wording and the order in which questions are presented.