When it comes to questions about morality, is the United States a center-right country? The four issues we examine below show some evidence that Americans differentiate their personal views from their political opinions. On issues such as gay marriage, Americans are moving in a more liberal direction on the policy questions, even as they say that for them personally, the behavior is morally wrong.
On some issues, such as marijuana legalization, policy and moral views have moved in tandem… In 1969, only 12% said the use of marijuana should be made legal. Now, around half say the use of marijuana should be legal. As recently as 2006, only 10% said smoking marijuana is morally acceptable, while a plurality today say that it is morally acceptable.
When it comes to abortion, policy views have not changed for some time. Most Americans tell Gallup that abortion should be legal only under certain circumstances. But there has been a slight change in moral views on the issue. A majority now tell Gallup pollsters that it’s morally wrong to have an abortion. Since 2001, the number who hold that view has increased six points.
On the death penalty, policy views and moral attitudes are moving together and in a liberal direction, but opinions have not shifted entirely. While the number who favor the use of the death penalty for a person convicted of murder has declined 11 points since 1985, a majority still favor its use. Also, most still find the death penalty morally acceptable, but the percentage who do so has also declined since 2001.
With the exception of marijuana, most Americans continue to hold what could be considered conservative views when it comes to the morality of many social issues. Their policy views are moving faster than their views about morality. It’s complicated.