Margie Omero | May 4, 2009
Topics: Gay marriage , immigration , Quinnipiac , Washington Post
A Washington Post article last week noticed national movement to the left on issues like gay marriage, illegal immigration, and the legalization of marijuana. The conventional wisdom in Washington says social and cultural issues may continue to galvanize the Republican base, but most voters are thinking about the economy, or to a lesser extent, the war. But in fact, these recent poll findings show voters have moved to the left not just on the economy, or the war, but also on social issues.
Gay marriage, in particular, shows the most movement. Looking at past Washington Post/ABC-News polling on the issue, support for legalizing gay marriage is now at a record high (49% support, 46% oppose). It is the first time that fewer than half oppose gay marriage. Importantly, much of this change has come from an increase in "strong" support for gay marriage. Almost as many strongly support gay marriage (31%) as strongly oppose it (39%). In 2006, the last public data point, twice as many reported strong opposition (51%) as strong support (24%).
As Josh Marshall at TPM notes, other public polling also shows recent shift in support for gay marriage. But he notes little change in a recent Quinnipiac poll, perhaps because of a question wording change in which respondents were asked about "a law in your state" rather than a more broad, "should it be legal or illegal" for gay couples to marry that we see in the WP/ABC poll. That is a good hypothesis. I would also look to the rest of the Quinnipiac survey for evidence that national views toward gay rights are softening. A majority disagree (58%) that gay marriage is a threat to heterosexual marriage. And majorities support other rights, such as adoption and serving in the military.
There is also real leftward movement in views on legalizing "a small amount of marijuana for personal use." Almost as many favor legalization (46%) as oppose (52%). In the 1985, the WP/ABC-News poll showed nearly three-fourths (72%) opposing.
When it comes to illegal immigration, voters seem to make a distinction between border security and illegal immigrants currently in the country. Views on whether "the US is or is not doing enough to keep illegal immigrants from coming in the country" have been, surprisingly, relatively stable since 2005 (from when public data are first available). This recent poll continues to be consistent with past results. But more voters than ever before (61%) support giving illegal immigrants now living in the US the right to live here legally if they pay a fine and "meet other requirements."
Gun control is a bit of an exception to this pattern. Voters are evenly divided between supporting "stricter gun laws in this country" and opposing it (51% support, 48% oppose). Prior to 2008, most polls showed net support for stricter gun control at 60% or higher. However, gun ownership appears mostly stable (41%), if not in slight decline (46% in 1999).
This overall pattern suggests there are more opportunities for candidates to be on the more liberal side of these issues. However, with the economy still dominating voters' concerns, social issues will likely take a back seat for most voters, at least in the near term.