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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%

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Comment Preferences

  •  On those social issues, it is true, but in face (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    tardis10, demjim, happymisanthropy

    where we are heading is towards a total-information awareness fascistic police state organized as a plutocracy where gay people can marry, and "people of color," can be elected as president, while the ruling class continues to accumulate wealth and power to unprecedented levels, and poverty, misery and ignorance spread like wildfire.

    Other than that, I guess it is indeed a good development that society is becoming more liberal.

  •  I think this interesting, true and misleading (6+ / 0-)

    all at the same time.

    I don't think there is any doubt but that we continue to progress and these issues and associated statistics are clear signs of that during my lifetime from the 60's until now. And reading history shows that there was a lot of lead-up to get us to the 60's as well.

    And overall I think it is true that we as a people are more liberal then we were before.

    But...

    I would like to see similar stats on attitudes towards evolution/creationism, science in general, unionism, workers rights in general, individual vs collective rights, security issues such as one of the commenters above me mentions, etc.

    I think a lot of those would also show liberal progress but I think some would show serious regression over the last few decades.

    One of my favorite Mark Twain quotes is... "There are three kinds of lies. Lies. Damn lies... and statistics."

    I don't think these statistics lie. But I do think they do not portray a wide enough view to be able to accurately pronouce the conclusion you do in your title.

    I think you are actually right... but I don't think it is as clear cut as presented.

    "Do what you can with what you have where you are." - Teddy Roosevelt

    by Andrew C White on Mon Jan 14, 2013 at 10:31:32 AM PST

  •  This is very heartening to see. (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Andrew F Cockburn

    It's difficult to notice on a year-by-year basis, but it really is amazing how much the US (and world) has shifted towards tolerance, acceptance and minority rights during a 40-year period. Probably the fastest shift in worldview that has ever happened in the history of humankind.

    No wonder the ultra-right wing (Tea Party crowd) keeps screaming about how they are under attack and calling for revolution and all that stuff. In a sense, they are right: their values of intolerance and hate are under attack -- not only from Democrats but from an increasing majority of their own party!

    (And a good thing too!)

    Climate activists unite: we need a symbol. A name. A vision. Join the discussion.

    by Eowyn9 on Mon Jan 14, 2013 at 10:32:22 AM PST

  •  Good post (5+ / 0-)

    Good post, if incomplete. It leaves the impression that "Liberal" is limited to certain social issues and therefore we see a constant progression.

    But "Liberal" includes economic issues as well (an out of work gay married couple today could be considered better off than an employed gay couple who could not get married - but I would hardly call that a more liberal society.) There is a reason for why social liberalism seems to progress while economic (and political) liberalism often appears to stagnate or regress, but that deserves a diary of its own.

    What, I think Ray is getting at, is just that. In other words, to economic interests, who can afford to inform themselves, oppose social liberalism only for as long as it benefits them economically (a working political majority). Once it ceases to benefit them, they will switch to whatever new arrangement works for them. We cannot forget the beneficiaries of today's social and economic liberal initiatives are often tomorrow's social and economic conservatives.

  •  voters vs. GOP, government (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Andrew F Cockburn

    Voters, including self-identified conservative voters, might be more liberal than ever, but you wouldn't know it from A) the Republican Party's platform and rhetoric and B) the policies undertaken by our government.

    Instead, the GOP is firmly beholden to its lunatic fringe and its plutocratic backers, while the government as a whole is constrained and/or determined to deal with that lunacy.

    The government's institutional interests are also often better served by conservatism; this is doubly true in the case of the military and "intelligence" community.

    Something's wrong when the bad guys are the utopian ones.

    by Visceral on Mon Jan 14, 2013 at 11:13:17 AM PST

  •  Don’t pull the blinds on the sunshine (5+ / 0-)

    My diary was not intended to cover every issue that liberals and conservatives care about. The focus here was on human rights, chapter 8 of Pinker’s book. And this is good news.

    In future diaries I’ll work on similar analysis for other issues, but when we look at the big picture it isn’t always bleak. And I suspect that on many issues we will find “general population” Republicans and conservatives differ significantly from “Congressional and political” Republicans and conservatives.

    For example, on abortion and stem cell research there is a wide discrepancy between GOP voters and their Congressional representatives. A majority of Republicans and conservatives favor legal abortion in the instance of rape, health of mother, and a genetically defective fetus. They also favor stem cell research.

    As many have noted, two serious problem are 1) the fringe votes more than the moderates and 2) framing the issues. We saw several GOP wingnuts go down in Senate races when their abortion views were framed correctly.

    I agree with the comments that there is work to be done promoting science, specifically evolution and global warming.  But here too I think some will be surprised at what I’ve found. The general public, including Republicans, have more faith in science than in business or religion on the issues of stem cells and global warming. I’ll report on that in an upcoming diary.

    I don't know what consciousness is or how it works, but I like it.

    by SocioSam on Mon Jan 14, 2013 at 11:38:41 AM PST

    •  I read Pinker's book last year and was (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      SocioSam, slothlax

      impressed. He tries to focus on the general trend and ignore the random fluctuations. I grew up in the 1960s and there is no doubt in my mind that the country has become more open and accepting in general.

      Everyone should read this book. It is encouraging to contemplate our ongoing success while in the middle of whatever crap is going on at the moment.

      •  It's more than a feel good, too (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        slothlax, Andrew F Cockburn

        it's important to recognize that progress has been made.
        Did we reach nirvana, yet? No. But we have seen real improvement.
        I'm old enough to remember Jim Crow, a couple months ago I voted to re-elect an AfricanAmerican president. In my state, gay people can get married and pot has been decriminalized, when I was growing up here, those subjects were dangerous to mention, they were so far out of the mainstream.
        It's hard to keep that kind of incremental progress in perspective, like the frog in the heating water (only in a good way) when we're dealing with 24/7 crises and hyped up animosities.
        But if your entire perception is filled up with fail, it's very hard to make yourself stay on it. A certain amount of success is necessary for your mental health.
        It's hard to council patience to people who's rights are not fully realized, so it's important for us all to recognize that "the arc of the universe does indeed bend toward justice".
        It's also important to recognize incrementalism itself.
        Nothing political is absolute and no major, society-wide shift happens in one sharp shot. AfricanAmerican rights took almost 100 years to go from slavery to non-slave, then another 100 to get to equal rights on paper. And it will take more time for that equality to be fully realized. At each step of that process there were people that wanted desperately to achieve all that has been achieved and more, right then, in their time. That didn't happen, but it didn't stop them from making the strides that they did.

        If I ran this circus, things would be DIFFERENT!

        by CwV on Mon Jan 14, 2013 at 01:17:58 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

  •  I certainly think we're winning the culture wars (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    slothlax

    Or that we've basically won them.  Abortion might be the exception, but as Pinker points out, it might be expected as we repudiate all forms of harming life forms, whether we qualify them as persons or not.  On a related note, he points out,  veganism and moral vegetarianism are on the rise as well, and that has nothing to do with "pro-life" attitudes.  

    For the record, I am pro-choice; I am relating Pinker's suggestion as to why abortion rights are less well-favored now than in the recent past, even among liberals.

    Conservatives need to realize that their Silent Moral Majority is neither silent, nor moral, nor a majority.

    by nominalize on Mon Jan 14, 2013 at 12:32:03 PM PST

  •  Good job Sam... (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    slothlax

    and interesting. This may explain why the religious right and tea party conservative types are so angry. Maybe they sense this shift, especially with the younger generation.

    I'll look forward to your next diary on the science issues.

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