As Congress Debates, Here’s Where the Public Is

On contentious issues like gay adoption, Americans are more liberal than you might think.


Article created by The American Enterprise Institute.

Public opinion on gay marriage has been fairly stable of late. Majorities do not believe that marriages between homosexual partners should be recognized as valid under the law. Gallup’s latest numbers show 39 percent in favor of gay marriage and 58 percent opposed.

However, people are more closely divided when asked whether there should be a constitutional amendment to this effect.

In Gallup’s latest poll, 50 percent said they favored an amendment that would “define marriage as being between a man and a woman, thus barring marriages between gay or lesbian couples.” But 47 percent were opposed.

For a summary of attitudes on these issues, see Attitudes About Homosexuality and Gay Marriage, by the author, at www.aei.org/publication14882.

Gay Adoption. In a 1977 Gallup poll, 14 percent of those surveyed favored allowing homosexual couples to adopt children legally.

Times have changed. When a May 10-14 ABC News/Time poll asked the question with slightly different wording, 49 percent of respondents favored allowing gay or lesbian couples to adopt a child, while 48 percent were opposed.

When asked, 56 percent of Democrats and 55 percent of independents favored the idea, compared to 35 percent of Republicans. Younger people are more accepting than older ones, and women are more accepting than men–a pattern that appears on other questions about gay issues.

Straight Marriage. Gallup found that 65 percent of respondents felt “when a man and a woman plan to spend the rest of their lives together as a couple” that it was very important for them to legally marry. Another 20 percent described a legal marriage as somewhat important. Seven percent said it was not too important, and 7 percent said it was not important at all.

When respondents were asked how important it was for them to legally marry if they planned to have a child, 37 percent said it was very important, 34 percent said it was somewhat important, 17 percent said it was not too important, and 10 percent said it was not important at all.

Searching Members’ Offices. Asked in an ABC News poll taken May 26-30, 78 percent of Democrats and 94 percent of Republicans said the FBI should be allowed to search the office of a Member of Congress. Rep. William Jefferson (D-La.), whose office was searched as part of an investigation into allegations of bribery, was not mentioned in the polling question. Respondents were told, “The FBI recently got a search warrant and searched a U.S. Congressman’s office in a corruption investigation. This is believed to be the first time in history federal agents have searched a Congress Member’s office. Leaders of Congress say this should not be allowed because it violates the separation of powers in the U.S. Constitution and could be used by prosecutors to put improper political pressure on lawmakers.” They were then told that others say “this kind of search should be allowed if a court approves it as part of a criminal investigation.”

Preventing Genocide. In a May 2-14 poll, Pew Research Center interviewers found that 77 percent of respondents felt that the United States and other Western governments have a moral obligation to use military force if necessary to prevent one group of people from committing genocide against another. Thirteen percent disagreed.

Death Penalty Update. In early May Gallup/USA Today polling, 65 percent of respondents said they favored the death penalty for a person convicted of murder, while 28 percent were opposed.

Support for the death penalty has fluctuated since Gallup first asked the question in 1936. Back then, 59 percent were in favor and 38 percent were opposed. Support for the death penalty reached its high in 1994, when 80 percent favored it.

Although 63 percent of Americans believe that innocent people have been executed in the past five years, most–60 percent of the survey sample–believe the death penalty is applied fairly in America, and 51 percent said it is not imposed often enough. One in five say it is imposed too often, while the remainder, 25 percent, say the frequency of executions is about right.

The change in the belief that the death penalty acts as a deterrent is striking. Roughly 60 percent gave that response in the mid-1980s. But in 2004 and 2006, Gallup found that roughly 35 percent did.

Consumer Debt. Gallup reports that Americans have, on average, three credit cards. Of those who have at least one, 42 percent say they always pay the full amount, and another 17 percent say they usually do. Twenty-seven percent usually leave balances, and another 11 percent pay the minimum. Two percent admit to paying less than the minimum.

Vacation Time. Fifty-five percent of Americans plan to take a summer vacation this year, while 43 percent do not. One-quarter of the vacationers say they have changed their plans because of high gas prices, while 73 percent say they haven’t changed them.