New polls show rising support for gay marriage, little change on abortion

October 18, 2010

WASHINGTON (ABP) – Abortion and gay rights appear to be decoupling
as important dividing lines among Americans when it comes to social
issues, according to recent surveys on values, faith and public life.

Rising
support for legally recognized same-sex unions and other gay-rights
issues alongside relatively steady numbers regarding support for
legalized abortion confirm the findings of other studies. And the
cleavage between the two issues as indicators of social or religious
conservatism is particularly apparent among younger voters.

“The
survey reveals a decoupling of the social issues of same-sex marriage
and abortion, which have traditionally been mentioned in the same
breath in the public discourse,” said Robert Jones, CEO of the Public
Religion Research Institute, which released the second set of findings from its biennial American Values Survey Oct. 13.

They
show an eight-point increase in support for same-sex marriage since
2008 as well as massive generation gaps between older and younger
voters in their relative support for gay unions.

The poll showed
that 37 percent of respondents favored full civil marriage rights for
same-sex couples, up from 29 percent who supported them in 2008.
Another 27 percent said they believe gay couples should be allowed to
enter into civil unions short of marriage. Only 33 percent opposed any
sort of legal recognition for same-sex couples.

The generation
gap on the issue was stark. Among the youngest group surveyed (ages
18-29), a full three-quarters supported full same-sex marriage rights
(52 percent) or civil unions (23 percent). But among those age 65 and
over, only a small majority voiced support for same-sex marriage (22
percent) or civil unions (29 percent).

The survey also showed
that white evangelicals are the major religious group most opposed to
same-sex marriage. While nearly six out of 10 white evangelicals said
they oppose gay marriage and a slight majority of African-American
Protestants did, majorities of mainline Protestants and Catholics were
supportive.

The generation gap in support of gay marriage held across all religious groups, including among white evangelicals.

And
while nearly a fifth of respondents said they had become more
supportive of gay rights in the last five years, only 6 percent said
they had become less supportive.

Meanwhile, when it came to
abortion, 55 percent of all respondents said it should be legal in all
or most cases, while 42 percent said it should be illegal in all or
most cases -- reflecting proportions of the population that have held
fairly steady for decades. More tellingly, 7 percent said they had
become more supportive of abortion rights in the last five years. In
the same period an identical percentage said they had become less
supportive of legalized abortion.

While support for abortion
rights was fairly similar across age groups, figures on other social
questions also reflected a generation gap.

“Our survey found
that nearly two-thirds of Americans under 30 say that one of the
biggest problems in the country is that not everyone is given an equal
chance in life. Less than half of adults age 65 and older see this as
one of the biggest problems,” said Dan Cox, the institute’s director of
research.

The findings of increasing support for gay marriage reflect other recent studies. A study
released Oct. 6 by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life found 42
percent of Americans supported gay marriage, while 48 percent opposed
it. It was the first time in the Pew Forum’s 15-year history of asking
the question that opposition to same-sex marriage had fallen below 50
percent. Unlike the Public Religion Research Institute survey, the Pew
Forum study did not ask respondents about their support for civil
unions.

The poll
of 3,013 adults was conducted the first two weeks of September. The
margin of error is plus or minus 2 percentage points. A first set of
findings, released the week before, found that there was much more overlap between the Tea Party movement and the Religious Right than many pundits suggest.