While reading Steven Pinker’s The Better Angles of our Nature: Why Violence has Declined, I came across this, “today’s conservatives are more liberal than yesterday’s liberals” (page 476).
I decided to see if Pinker was correct. I used data from the General Social Survey (GSS). I chose issues Pinker wrote about in that chapter, Chapter 8: The Rights Revolution.
All questions in the GSS survey are not asked each year. I chose questions with at least a 20 year span that were specific to Pinker’s discussion. Below are the question as asked followed by the liberal (Lib) and conservative (Con) responses for the earliest year and most recent year the question was asked.
As we would expect, liberals are more liberal than conservatives for each year the question was asked. However, Pinker is correct. Current conservatives are as or more liberal than liberals were back in the 1970s and 1980s.
Specifically, the nation, both liberals and conservatives, has shifted toward the liberal end of the scale on interracial marriage, voting for an African-American President, voting for a woman president, approving married women in the work force, views on homosexuality, premarital sex, spanking children (question actually reads “good hard spanking,” and allowing atheists to teach in college.
Granted there are still some very vocal extremist conservatives who want to “take us back,” but for the most part the country is moving in a liberal direction on these issues. The “take our country back” extremists are not going to take us back to Jim Crow. They are not going to put women back into the kitchen. They are not going to put our homosexual citizens back into the closet. Any party that panders to the bigot vote will lose more votes than they gain. And that is a good thing.
General Social Survey Questions and responses.
Do you think there should be laws against marriages between (Negroes/Blacks/African-Americans) and whites? [Note: the race questions changed wording from “Negroes” to “Blacks” to “African-Americans” from 1974 to 2010.] [% favoring these laws]
1974: Lib 24.4%; Con 38.3%
2002: Lib 7.5%; Con 8.7%
If your party nominated a (Negro/Black/African-American) for President, would you vote for him if he were qualified for the job? [% yes]
1974: Lib 88.2%; Con 80.4%
2010: Lib 97.6%; Con 95.6%
If your party nominated a woman for President, would you vote for her if she were qualified for the job? [% yes]
1974: Lib 87.6%; Con 76.8%
2010: Lib 97.4%; Con 95.3%
Do you approve or disapprove of a married woman earning money in business or industry if she has a husband capable of supporting her? [% approve]
1974: Lib 74.4%; Con 66.5%
1998: Lib 85.2%; Con 79.7%
What about sexual relations between two adults of the same sex--do you think it is always wrong, almost always wrong, wrong only sometimes, or not wrong at all? (% answering “Not wrong at all”)
1974: Lib 22.0%; Con 8.2%
2010: Lib 61.0%; Con 27.4%
Homosexual couples should have the right to marry one another. [% Agree]
1988: Lib 21.8%; Con 8.8%
2010: Lib 68.7%; Con 23.3%
There's been a lot of discussion about the way morals and attitudes about sex are changing in this country. If a man and woman have sex relations before marriage, do you think it is always wrong, almost always wrong, wrong only sometimes, or not wrong at all? [% “not wrong at all”]
1974: Lib 43.9%; Con 21.3%
2010: Lib 66.5%; Con 39.7%
Do you strongly agree, agree, disagree, or strongly disagree that it is sometimes necessary to discipline a child with a good, hard spanking?[% disagree]
1986: Lib 21.5%; Con 15.0%
2010: Lib 44.2%; Con 23.8%
Should an atheist be allowed to teach in a college or university? [% allow]
1974: Lib 56.4%; Con 36.1%
2010: Lib 71.4%; Con 57.3%