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

THEN TO THE RIGHT – Other views tilt more to the right. Just 51 percent in this poll support the general principle of "stricter gun control laws," about the same as last September (50 percent) and down sharply from its peak, 67 percent in mid-2000. The 48 percent now opposed to gun control is the most in polls dating to 1989, and the number "strongly" opposed, at 36 percent, its highest in that time.

The greatest change is a 26-point drop in support for gun control among Republicans, to 31 percent, and a 21-point drop among independents, to 46 percent. Support among Democrats is down by a far milder 7 points, to 69 percent.

Support is also down very steeply among the four in 10 Americans who live in gun-owning households: Fifty-two percent of gun owners supported stricter gun control in 2000; just 29 percent do now.

There are changes in related views as well. For the first time in ABC/Post polls a clear majority of Americans, 57 percent, don't think stricter gun laws would in fact reduce violent crime. And 61 percent – a new high, and again the first substantial majority – say enforcement of existing gun laws would accomplish more than passing new, stricter ones.

On immigration, while support for a path to citizenship is up, interest in greater border control remains high and strong. Seventy-four percent say the United States is not doing enough to keep illegal immigrants out of the country; 59 percent feel "strongly" about it.

Two others issues, covered in separate analyses earlier this week, round out the mixed ideological message. On one hand two-thirds of Americans favor diplomatic relations with Cuba, and more than half support open trade and travel -- views that might be seen as less conservative. At the same time the number who side with Obama's ban on the torture of terrorism suspects in all cases has declined from 58 percent in January to 49 percent now -- a move, in this case, toward the more conservative viewpoint.

MORE MARRIAGE – Of all these issues, the divisions -- and changes -- on gay marriage are especially striking. In addition to more support, there's been a shift in intensity of views: Compared with three years ago, the number of Americans "strongly" opposed has declined from 51 percent to 39 percent, while the number strongly in favor of gay marriage has advanced from 24 percent to 31 percent.

Democrats and Republicans Divide on Gay Marriage

Polarization is especially broad along political, ideological and religious lines. Seventy-five percent of evangelical white Protestants say gay marriage should be illegal, and 68 percent feel that way strongly. Similarly, 83 percent of conservative Republicans are opposed, 73 percent strongly. Among all conservatives regardless of political affiliation, 66 percent are opposed.

Across the spectrum, 75 percent of secular Americans favor gay marriage, 55 percent strongly; so do 71 percent of liberal Democrats, 57 percent strongly; and 71 percent of all liberals, 54 percent strongly. Among all Democrats, 62 percent are in favor; among all Republicans, 74 percent are opposed.

The middle makes a significant difference: Fifty-four percent of moderates and 52 percent of independents now favor gay marriage, up from 38 and 44 percent, respectively, in 2006. But the single biggest shift has come among moderate and conservative Democrats: in 2006, just 30 percent in this group said gay marriage should be legal. Today it's 57 percent.

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