Are Americans moving in a more liberal or permissive direction on social issues? Below, we graph the “conservative” responses to several trends on prominent social issues. There is clear movement on gay marriage and legalization of marijuana. On abortion, there seems to be little movement at all. Support for applying the death penalty has fallen, but a majority still approves of its use. These trends suggest that Americans are selectively moving leftward, but movement cannot be seen across the board.
Americans have also moved away from the notion that government should promote traditional values. For the first time in Gallup’s data, a majority in 2012 said government should not favor any particular set of values. At the theoretical level, the country seems to be growing more permissive when it comes to social values.
The observation AEI’s Public Opinion editors made in 1980 seems to still hold true: “the choice of one [ideological] tag or the other is not random or meaningless. But the reasons are not ideological. That is, they do not, for the most part, involve adherence to a formal package of political ideas and prescriptions. Instead, they are generally narrow, specific, and individualistic.” Selective movement on a few social issues, combined with declining enthusiasm for promoting traditional values, suggest more of a centrist attitude than a center-right one.