American Morals Are Changing; Are Politicians Keeping Up?

Source: Thinkstock

Source: Thinkstock

On average, more people believe that gay and lesbian relations are more immoral than divorce, gambling, and stem cell research. It ties with the percentage who say having a child when unmarried is morally acceptable, according to a Gallup poll taken between May 8 and May 11, 2014. Even so, the poll shows that gay and lesbian relations alongside a number of other major political items had a near record high in acceptability this year, which begs the question: are politicians on the same page? To an extent, catering to an electorate and staying in office means politicians need to stay up to date on public opinion to take their state seats. On the other hand, there are plenty of politicians who win based on contemporary economic issues in their state, such as coal interests this election, rather than by focusing on morally controversial subjects.

Let’s look at abortion first. According to Gallup, 28 percent of Republicans say abortion is morally acceptable, 41 percent of Independents, and 59 percent of Democrats. Based on the recent rise in anti-abortion legislation in historically conservative states like Mississippi, Louisiana, and Arizona, abortion is one of those highly visible political stances that demands political compliance with public opinion. Arizona saw a law go into effect that would prevent drug-induced abortions after the 9th week of pregnancy. Other states have seen a similar ban challenged, including Indiana, Iowa, North Dakota, Oklahoma, and Texas; only Iowa doesn’t lean red amongst them. Oklahoma, on the other hand, hasn’t chosen a Congressmen that wasn’t anti-abortion in 14 years, and both Oklahoma, Indiana, and four other states prohibit abortion after 20 weeks, according to CBS. South Carolina has demanding controls in place for clinics, even accounting for required doorway size, so it’s no surprise that 91 percent of the state counties don’t have abortion providers.

With just over 40 percent of Democrats saying abortion is immoral, it makes sense that more than just the tried and true GOP states have limiting legislation, but appropriately, more moderate states seem to have more moderate abortion state environments. CBS reports that 83 percent of Michigan is without an abortion provider. Pennsylvania has 78 percent of counties without providers and its Governor, Tom Corbett, is strongly anti-abortion; however, congressional representation is split on the issue. According to a Guttmacher Institute Report on state policies, “An Overview of Abortion Law,” forty-six states let healthcare providers make the choice on whether or not to refuse abortion. Nine states have rules on when abortion can be covered by private insurgence plans, usually only allowing coverage if a woman’s life is in danger. Most have abortion coverage available for added cost.

The death penalty as a politically charged moral issue has become particularly salient after the year we’ve had in Oklahoma with the botched execution of Clayton Lockett. The death penalty was found largely acceptable with 61 percent on average saying it is morally acceptable, compared to 52 percent who say doctor assisted suicide is moral, and the 42 average saying abortion is acceptable. Looking at parties, 73 percent of Republicans find capital punishment morally allowable, with 62 percent of independents and 52 percent of Democrats saying the same.

Considering that an average of 39 percent say the death penalty is immoral, the U.S. state split on laws is pretty close to matching that stat. Eighteen of the fifty states have abolished the death penalty, more blue then red, so about 36 percent of the states outlaw it. Sixty-four percent (32 states) allow the death penalty, according to The Death Penalty Information Center. American opinion is not fully in control of the issue, though — in fact, international sentiment bleeds through. Lethal injection drugs are becoming considerably more scarce as overseas providers are hesitant to sell the drugs to companies in the U.S. with the knowledge that these drugs might be used for executions. The substitute drugs are proving to have unintended side effects or to be less effective and just generally more controversial, so a change in U.S. opinion may eventually be brought about from logistics beyond the simple concept of the death penalty.

The morality of gay and lesbian relationships is one of the most politicized item on Gallup‘s list, and is one that has reached particularly high levels of change compared to other issues, according to the poll. Even so, it’s only barely above the line between contentious and largely acceptable, with only 6 percentage points higher than doctor-assisted suicide, which falls in the former category. Republicans remain fairly low in acceptance, but did see a raise to 39 percent saying these relationships were acceptable morally. Sixty percent of Independents and 71 percent of Democrats say the same, showing a long standing and clear discrepancy in party.

The state of gay marriage — the easiest measures of political action surrounding the acceptance of the LGBTQ community — is currently in flux. While many states have same-sex marriage bans in place, there are many that working to overturn them. So while there are currently only nineteen state with same-sex marriage legalized — just under even the conservative Republican acceptance rate — there are number working to reverse bans or pass legislation. In that way, politics are working to catch up to public opinion, but based on court cases going on right now changes can be expected.

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