Of course I'm liberal, I believe in liberty.

Friday, February 18, 2005

Conservative America

The Economist1 ran a pull on American social values that seems counter intuitive yet gave back exactly the results I was expecting. Basically, everyone in America agrees that the country is more conservative now than it was several years ago. However, American's view of the actual social issues themselves are, with the exception of abortion, consistently more liberal. Here's the graph:

The full survey is here.

Americans believe we are more conservative than ten years ago, but realize we are more liberal than our parents. We are more tolerant of gays, less tolerant of the death penalty and, a bit to my surprise, more willing to legalize marijuana.

Marijuana is an interesting one. I agree that it isn't more dangerous to use than alcohol, but that's a comment on alcohol more than pot. And I certainly agree with the basic premise that prohibition doesn't work and we are wasting jail space and people's lives locking up pot smokers. On the other hand, what do we do about second hand smoke and children? I don't believe any child should be exposed to marijuana smoke. Also, although pot isn't more dangerous than alcohol, the two together can be deadly. Alcohol is a poison that will kill in large quantities, it is only the body's ability to purge itself (worshiping at the porcelain altar) that saves the heavy drinker. However, marijuana's main medicinal benefit is its ability to reduce nausea, allowing the alcohol to kill.

On abortion it seems we are both more pro-life and more pro-choice, with more and more moving to the middle ground. Only 14% believe abortion should be Illegal in all circumstances (down 1% since '95) while only 29% believe abortion should always be legal (down 4%). A solid 53% believe believe abortion should only sometimes be legal (up 3%). It's interesting that neither party can muster a 50% majority on either extreme. America really is pro-life and pro-choice, despite all the claims this was the one issue there could never be a compromise.

It turns out Hillary was right. After her speech on abortion I expected only mockery from the pro-life crowd, but the response was far more positive than I anticipated. Yes, the mockery was certainly there, but so was the praise. For examples of pro-life praise see The Moderate Voice and the Bull Moose, each with their own links to other sources. NARAL's request to pro-life America to help them prevent abortions was another good move towards moderation by the pro-choice crowd.

Abortion has always been about two completely different issues. The issue most of us think about is weighing the right of the unborn child versus the right of the mother. Until the feminist movement women were considered by most to have few rights, so the balance was obvious. Since feminism was a liberal cause, abortion rights became a liberal cause as well. But the true pacifist liberal, like Kucinich until a couple of years ago, those who consistently believe in life and the whole Maya Keyes gang show the division isn't so obvious.

The other issue, though, is there are some conservatives that want to make abortions illegal just to put women in their place, back in the kitchen barefoot and pregnant. Personally, I don't think this is more than a percent or less of the whole pro-life side, so why do I bring it up? Because I suspect many on the left believe this group is much, much larger than it really is, which leads to a dig-in the heels, can't budge mentality. But for those who now assume the sexes are equal, instead of fighting to prove it, the issue becomes what it should always be, the weighing of two rights.

Approval of Unions are also more moderate now than before. Those that approved of unions dropped from 60% to 52% in just eight years, but disapproval dropped from 31% to 27% over the same time. Maybe this is because people just don't think about unions as much as they used to. Personally, I'm strongly in favor of the existence of unions, I think they are one of the more powerful tools available to balance the natural, unhealthy power employers have over workers. That said, the odds of me siding with a union in a labor dispute are small; I'd probably remain neutral and would be just as likely to take the businesses side if I thought the union was demanding too much. I'm always looking for balance and distrust excess of power in any form, including unions.

On the question of business versus the environment everyone flocked to an answer that wasn't allowed in a '95 poll: both should be given equal priority received 49% in the survey. Those that chose an extreme went with the environment over business by a margin of two to one, just like in '95, only both numbers halved due (I assume) to the new choice.

So with all this moderation, why does the country feel so extra divided today? The Republican mastery of the wedge issue is part of it and Iraq and other extreme Bush policies help as well, but I don't think it explains everything. Personally, I think Jon Steward was right and the Crossfire culture in the media and blogosphere has done wonders to emphasize and magnify our differences. We aren't really all that divided, it just looks like we are on TV.

1 That magazine free trade liberals like myself want to love, but can't. For example, they recently wholeheartedly endorsed Bush's social security privatization plan, except, of course, for every single detail. Maddening.