08/03/2006 - Americans cannot be easily characterized as conservative or liberal on today's most pressing social questions. The public's point of view varies from issue to issue. They are conservative in opposing gay marriage and gay adoption, liberal in favoring embryonic stem cell research and a little of both on abortion. Along with favoring no clear ideological approach to most social issues, the public expresses a desire for a middle ground on the most divisive social concern of the day: abortion.
Together, the results of the national survey by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press and Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life suggest that the public remains reluctant to move too far from current policies and practices on many key social policy questions. Despite talk of "culture wars" and the high visibility of activist groups on both sides of the cultural divide, there has been no polarization of the public into liberal and conservative camps.
Indeed, public opinion has moved little on these issues in recent years and continues to be mixed and often inconsistent, reflecting a blend of pragmatism and principle. For instance, a clear majority (56%) continues to oppose allowing gays and lesbians to marry while 35% express support. But nearly as large a majority (54%) supports allowing homosexual couples to enter into legal agreements that would give them many of the same rights as married couples.
The survey, conducted July 6-19, 2006, among 2,003 adults, also found that 55% prefer that abortion laws be decided at the national level rather than each state deciding for itself. This desire for a national policy prescription extends to other social issues as well. Despite growing antipathy toward Congress and low levels of trust in the federal government generally, majorities or pluralities also favor a national rather than state-by-state approach to policymaking on stem cell research, gay marriage and whether creationism should be taught in the schools along with evolution.
Read the full report Pragmatic Americans Liberal and Conservative on Social Issues on the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life Web site.