Attitudes Toward 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' Policy Radically Change

Gays in military backed by Republicans, conservatives and evangelicals.


July 19, 2008 — -- On the 15th anniversary of "don't ask, don't tell," three-quarters of Americans support allowing gays to serve in the military, whether they "tell" or not -- much broader support than existed when the compromise policy was put in place.

Military service by gays is backed by large majorities across most groups, including, perhaps surprisingly, Republicans, conservatives and evangelicals.

There's one exception -- service by gays who've gone public slips to 50 percent among military veterans.

All told, 78 percent in this ABC News/Washington Post poll say homosexuals who don't reveal their sexual orientation should be allowed to serve. Moreover, in a rejection of the current policy, about as many, 75 percent, also favor service by homosexuals who do disclose their orientation.

The change in support for openly gay service members has been striking.

In 1993 fewer than half -- 44 percent -- believed they should be allowed to serve, rising to 62 percent in 2001 and today's 75 percent.

Support for gays who remain silent on their orientation is up from 63 percent in 1993, though about the same now as in 2001. And support for allowing gays to serve peaks among liberal Democrats, Catholics and women; it's lower -- but still commands majorities -- among evangelical Protestants, conservative Republicans, men and seniors.

Among evangelical Protestants, for instance, 62 percent support service by openly gay members of the military and 69 percent support service by gays who remain silent. Fifty-nine percent of conservative Republicans support service by gays who go public, as do 64 percent of all conservatives and all Republicans alike.

Compared with their views in 1993, conservatives, independents, whites, Republicans and men all have moved from minority to majority support for gays serving openly. The largest increase came among conservative Republicans -- up 43 points from only 16 percent support in 1993.

Support's now 66 percent among men, nearly double its level in 1993; it's 83 percent among women, who tend to be more supportive of gay rights.

More than eight in 10 Catholics support gays serving in the military, whether or not they disclose their orientation.

They are as supportive of open military service as seculars and more so than Protestants. And on closed military service, Catholics are more accepting than both Protestants and seculars.

Gay rights in general also tend to be more popular with young adults, but there's little difference on this particular issue among age groups -- a further sign of the widespread nature of public acceptance of military service by gays.

METHODOLOGY: This ABC News/Washington Post poll was conducted by telephone July 10-13, 2008, among a random national sample of 1,119 adults, including an oversample of African Americans (weighted to their correct share of the national population), for a total of 209 black respondents. The results from the full survey have a 3-point error margin. Sampling, data collection and tabulation by TNS of Horsham, PA.