POLL: Support for Civil Unions Rises, Yet Sharp Divisions Remain

A record number of Americans in the latest ABC News/Washington Post poll support civil unions for gay couples, and most continue to favor legal abortion -- while behind those majority views sharp political and ideological divisions rage on.

Overall, 55 percent favor allowing homosexual couples to form legally recognized civil unions, giving them the same rights as married couples in areas such as health insurance, inheritance and pension coverage. That's up from 45 percent in an ABC/Post poll in 2006; the previous high was 51 percent in 2004.

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Republican presidential candidate Rudy Giuliani's support for gay civil unions (and legal abortion) has been disconcerting to core groups within his party. Conservative Republicans and evangelical white Protestants oppose civil unions by more than 2-1, and Republicans overall oppose them by 58-39 percent. Yet some are willing to overlook the issue, notably televangelist Pat Robertson, who endorsed Giuliani yesterday.

Similarly, while 55 percent of Americans support legal abortion -- steady the last five years, and almost exactly the 12-year average in ABC/Post polls -- that ranges from 78 percent of liberal Democrats to a low of 31 percent of conservative Republicans.

There are differences among other groups. On civil unions, support peaks among adults under age 30, and tanks among seniors. It's highest in the East and West, notably lower in the Midwest and South. Whites overall are more apt than blacks to support gay civil unions, and the idea wins more support among women (59 percent) than men (51 percent, and 47 percent among married men).

Support for legal abortion, by contrast, is identical among men and women, and also among blacks and whites. But legal abortion creates an especially stark dividing line between evangelical white Protestants (63 percent oppose it) and their nonevangelical counterparts, among whom 65 percent support it. Legal abortion also is supported by 53 percent of white Catholics.

IMMIGRATION -- On another much-debated issue, immigration, a bare majority, 51 percent, supports a program offering a path to permanent status to illegal immigrants; 44 percent oppose it. (Support for this kind of program goes higher in polls that propose deportation as the only alternative.)

There are partisan and ideological divisions on immigration as well, but within a closer range. Support for a legal-status program ranges from 67 percent of liberal Democrats to 43 percent of conservative Republicans. The idea's much more popular among young adults (63 percent support) than among their elders (44 percent of those 50 and older), and more among women than men.

SIZE of GOVERNMENT -- A yet more fundamental issue pertains to the role of government in society; 50 percent of Americans say they favor "smaller government with fewer services" while 44 percent prefer "larger government with more services." That's the same as in 2004, with less preference for "smaller government" than previously -- majorities in polls from 1992 to 2002.

The biggest differences on this question again are by political party and ideology. Two-thirds of conservatives, 69 percent of Republicans and nearly three-quarters of conservative Republicans prefer smaller government; 62 percent of Democrats and 72 percent of liberal Democrats say the opposite.

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