Expert Commentary

Pew Research: Gun rights, abortion, gay marriage views over time

2012 Pew Research Center report with new survey information from more than 3,000 people on social issues and historical comparative data.

Social issues — and the associated “culture war” in America — continue to play prominent roles in politics. There is an ingrained notion of a static political standoff: To many, the country seems split into two camps that have stubbornly dug in on issues. But survey data suggests that public support for some social issues has fluctuated significantly over recent history.

A 2012 report by the Pew Research Center, “More Support for Gun Rights, Gay Marriage than in 2008, 2004,” compared current surveys on support for social issues with past data. The 2012 survey asked more than 3,000 adults about their views on gay marriage, gun rights and abortion.

Key findings include:

  • There has been a significant decrease in the opposition to gay marriage over time. In 2004, 60% of American opposed gay marriage and 31% favored it. As of 2012, 43% of Americans opposed gay marriage while 47% of supported it.
  • Among Americans younger than 30 there has been a significant decline in opposition to gay marriage, from 48% in 2008 to 30% in 2012. As of 2012, “young people favor gay marriage by more than two-to-one” with 65% in support and 30% opposed.
  • As of 2012, the majority of Democrats (59%) and Independents (52%) support gay marriage, an increase of 9 percentage points among Democrats and 10 percentage points among Independents since 2008.
  • Republicans remain opposed to gay marriage, with 68% in opposition to it and only 23% in support. However, there has been a 10 percentage point decline in opposition to gay marriage among Republicans since 2004.
  • Opinions on gun rights have shifted significantly over time. In 2000, 66% of Americans said controlling gun ownership was more important than protecting gun rights, while just 29% said rights were more important. By 2012, 49% supported gun rights versus 45% favoring gun control.
  • Support for gun ownership among both men and women has increased from 2008, with a 14 percentage point increase in support for gun rights for men and a 9 percentage point increase for women.
  • Partisan division over gun control has also grown in recent years. Republican support for gun rights increased from 65% in 2009 to 72% in 2012, while Independent support for gun rights increased from 48% in 2009 to 55% in 2012.
  • In 1995, 59% of Americans supported legalized abortion in all or most cases and only 40% did not. In 2001, citizens were equally divided on abortion, with 49% supporting it and 48% opposed. By 2012, support had shifted back in favor of legalized abortion, with 53% supporting it in all or most cases and 39% against.

“Opinions about a pair of contentious social issues, gun control and gay marriage, have changed substantially since previous presidential campaigns,” the report notes in its summary. “On gun control, Americans have become more conservative; on gay marriage, they have become more liberal.” As for near-term trends on citizens’ abortion views, “little changed from recent years. In 2009, the percentage favoring legal abortion in all or most cases fell below 50% for the first time since 2001. Since then, however, support for legal abortion has rebounded and is generally in line with trends dating to 1995.”

Tags: gay issues, campaign issue, guns, civil rights

About The Author