Changing Views on Gay Marriage, Gun Control, Immigration and Legalizing Marijuana

Changing Views on Social Issues

Support for gay marriage, legalizing illegal immigrants and decriminalizing marijuana all are at new highs. Three-quarters of Americans favor federal regulation of greenhouse gases. Two-thirds support establishing relations with Cuba.

But hold tight.

If some views that may be perceived as liberal are ascendant, so are some conservative ones: Opposition to gun control is also at a new high in the latest ABC News/Washington Post poll. There's continued broad support for tighter border controls. And contrary to President Obama, half of Americans wouldn't flatly rule out torturing terrorism suspects.

Click here for a PDF with charts and questionnaire.

It's a country, in short, in which no fixed ideological orthodoxy holds sway, and attitudes on hot-button issues can and do shift over time, sometimes in surprising ways.

Take gay marriage, legal in Massachusetts, Connecticut and now Iowa, with Vermont coming aboard in September. At its low, in 2004, just 32 percent of Americans favored gay marriage, with 62 percent opposed. Now 49 percent support it versus 46 percent opposed -- the first time in ABC/Post polls that supporters have outnumbered opponents.

More than half, moreover -- 53 percent -- say gay marriages held legally in another state should be recognized as legal in their states.

The surprise is that the shift has occurred across ideological groups. While conservatives are least apt to favor gay marriage, they've gone from 10 percent support in 2004 to 19 percent in 2006 and 30 percent now -- overall a 20-point, threefold increase, alongside a 13-point gain among liberals and 14 points among moderates. (Politically, support for gay marriage has risen sharply among Democrats and independents alike, while far more slightly among Republicans.)

FIRST LEAN LEFT – On an entirely different issue, 46 percent of Americans now favor legalizing small amounts of marijuana for personal use, the most in data back to the mid-1980s and more than double its level 12 years ago. While 52 percent remain opposed, that's down from 75 percent in the late 1990s and 78 percent in 1986.

The biggest changes in the past two decades are 29- and 27-point advances in support of legalization among Democrats and independents, to 49 and 53 percent, respectively. The slightest: a 10-point gain among Republicans, to just 28 percent support.

In another new high, 61 percent now support giving illegal immigrants "the right to live here legally if they pay a fine and meet other requirements." That's up from 49 percent in 2007 to a substantial majority for the first time. In this case support is up more sharply among Republicans, a 17-point gain to 59 percent, than among Democrats, up 9 points to 68 percent. It's up 14 points among independents.

Global Warming, Gun Control and Gay Marriage

And on global warming, a new question finds 75 percent support for federal controls on the release of greenhouse gases in an effort to reduce global warming; indeed a substantial 54 percent support it "strongly." The Environmental Protection Agency moved in this direction this month, declaring these emissions a threat.

Regulation wins support even though 77 percent express concern about its impact on the cost of things they buy. Indeed, even among those who are "very" concerned about the cost impact, two-thirds support the regulation of greenhouse gases nonetheless.

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