By Stephanie Whiteside / current.com
American public opinion on key social issues is shifting – and not in the same direction. A Washington Post-ABC poll released Tuesday showed that opposition to gay marriage is at an all-time low, while a Gallup poll released Wednesday found that the number of Americans who identify themselves as pro-choice has plummeted.
Progressive women writers from Jezebel, Feministing and The Frisky tell Current they think the shift is due to the increased attention the media gives the issue of gay rights and the Grand Old Party's continued attacked on the term "pro-choice," that has made the identifier something of a dirty word.
Gallup has polled Americans on the issue of abortion since 1995, when 56 percent of respondents identified themselves as pro-choice. The latest numbers show a mere 41 percent of Americans identifying themselves as pro-choice. The Washington Post-ABC poll asked for views on gay marriage, finding opposition to same-sex unions at a low of 39 percent, down from 43 percent in March.
Reproductive rights and gay rights are both key issues for progressives. Both have also been at the center of the culture wars waged by conservatives. So why the split in responses? Is this a sign that America cares more about gay rights than reproductive freedom?
When it comes to gay marriage, the rising swell of support has been much more widespread. The most notable milestone is President Barack Obama's recent vocal support for gay marriage – the first time a sitting president has shown full support for same-sex marriages.
But it's not just the president. Jessica Wakeman, a writer for thefrisky.com, notes the movement for gay rights has a very large and vocal community showing support and the issue has been tackled directly in popular TV shows like "Glee."
"Reproductive rights doesn't have the same nationwide exposure that gay rights does," she said. "It's not normalized."
The GOP has also waged a public relations war on the term "pro-choice," equating it with being pro-abortion. Conservatives have consistently dragged the fight on reproductive freedom far to the right; what used to be a discussion over access to safe, legal abortion has turned into a fight over access to contraception.
Wakeman also notes that the language in polls is an issue. Other studies that ask more detailed questions about access to safe, legal abortion have found that there is rising support for reproductive rights. But they may not identify as pro-choice when asked directly.
Erin Ryan, a writer for Jezebel, notes the GOP has made an impact by defining what pro-choice means.
"I think that the right has successfully conflated 'pro-choice' and 'pro-abortion' to middle-of-the-road voters, and that if you dug further, you'd see that a lot of people who are in favor of the legal right to abortion don't call themselves 'pro choice.'"
Feministing writer Chloe Angyal points out that the GOP's framing of the term "pro-choice" suits its agenda.
"They’ve made 'choice' into a synonym for 'abortion.' That is, obviously, a complete and deliberate distortion of the pro-choice position. But it is a distortion that serves anti-choicers very well: It’s a powerful thing to say that 50 percent of Americans identify the way you do."
The issue of abortion is also one that is difficult because, Wakeman notes, for a lot of people on both sides it's seen as a very cut-and-dried issue.
Yet that doesn't reflect the reality of the situation.
"The reality is that there are more than two positions on the abortion issue, and there is more than just abortion at stake when we talk about reproductive rights," Angyal notes. "We need to have a nuanced conversation about these findings, just like we need to have a nuanced conversation about reproductive freedom, access, and education."
Kal Penn tells Jennifer Granholm women's and LGBT rights
are 'no brainer' issues for youth voters:
There may be a temptation to weigh key issues, such as gay marriage and reproductive rights, in terms of resources. Is it necessary for progressives to prioritize one key issue over the other for the sake of winning a political battle?
The right wing has shown what can be accomplished with single-minded focus (and monetary support) but in a diverse base picking and choosing between constituencies only leads to the oppression Olympics, where everyone loses and nothing gets done.
It also takes away from the common thread of both issues – that the GOP is pushing policies that restrict the rights of citizens. Angyal points out, "In fact, the two issues have a lot in common: they’re both instances in which it’s still totally acceptable to vote on people’s rights."
Cenk Uygur: America is getting more progressive
What do you think? Are gay rights are winning at the expense of women's rights?
(Photo: Getty Images)
- news blog