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New Gallup Poll: Americans’ Positions on Moral Issues Shifts to the Left

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Benny Mazur (Flickr - CC)

Kirsten Andersen - published on 05/29/15

Americans more likely now than ever before to consider once taboo behaviors morally acceptable, especially when it comes to homosexuality

A new survey of over 1,000 U.S. adults has confirmed that Americans are more likely now than ever before to consider once taboo behaviors morally acceptable, especially when it comes to homosexuality.

According to Gallup, which has been tracking statistics on Americans’ “values and beliefs” since the early 2000s, nearly two-thirds of Americans now say they consider homosexual behavior “morally acceptable,” compared with fewer than half of Americans surveyed in 2001. The trend reflects a growing number of adults who now say they believe sexual preference is an inborn trait: more than half of those surveyed this month said they believe gays and lesbians are “born that way” – a first in the history of Gallup’s polling on the issue.

Considering the unprecedented media saturation concerning gay and lesbian issues of late, it is perhaps unsurprising that Americans vastly overestimate the number of their fellow citizens who identify as homosexual. On average, survey respondents estimated that roughly a quarter of the U.S. population is gay – a far cry from Gallup’s own poll numbers, which show that only 3.8 percent of Americans actually consider themselves lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender.

The massive cultural shift in opinion regarding the origin and moral acceptability of homosexual behavior has inevitably led to a drastic increase in support for gay marriage. 60 percent of those surveyed this month said they support laws redefining marriage to include same-sex couples – an all-time record high, and a five-point jump from last year’s statistics. 

Homosexuality isn’t the only social issue on which Americans are trending leftward. Also on the rise is acceptance of out-of-wedlock sex and childbirth, which both enjoyed greater than 60 percent support by those surveyed.  Meanwhile, marriage is no longer seen as a lifetime commitment for the overwhelming majority of Americans – 71 percent of those surveyed said divorce is morally acceptable.

More surprising were drastic jumps in support for a couple of practices that are not only unpopular and socially taboo, but outright illegal in many places. The rates of acceptance for both polygamy and human cloning have more than doubled since the start of the millennium. For the moment, both remain unpopular, with acceptance rates only in the teens, but the rapid rise from single-digit support just a few years ago could be a harbinger of things to come.

Meanwhile, at least one issue remains as deadlocked as ever: Abortion. On the morality of ending unborn life, the nation remains roughly split. According to Gallup, 45 percent of those surveyed said abortion is morally okay, while 42 percent said they disapprove – a statistical dead heat, since the poll has a margin of error of + or – 5 percentage points.

On most other life issues, however, the nation has continued to drift to the left. Fully 68 percent of Americans said they support legalized euthanasia, a ten percent jump from 2014. Suicide of the old-fashioned do-it-yourself variety enjoyed a small uptick in acceptance, as well. And 64 percent of survey respondents said it’s okay to experiment on human embryos, even if the experimentation kills the embryo. Among the life issues, only the death penalty saw a shift in American attitudes in the direction of protecting life – support for the practice fell three percent, from 63 percent to 60 percent. (It’s worth noting that Gallup considers this, too, to be a shift to the political left.)

Other issues examined by the Gallup poll included American attitudes toward pornography, gambling, animal rights, teenage sex, and extramarital affairs.  For a summary of the survey’s findings, click here.  To download the complete survey from Gallup, click here (PDF download).

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