It may surprise you to learn that the steady increase in public approval of certain types of social liberalism in America in recent decades is not entirely a case of old conservatives dying off and being replaced by more progressive-minded young folks. Oh, sure, generation gaps are part of the situation. That's always been the case. […]
It may surprise you to learn that the steady increase in public approval of certain types of social liberalism in America in recent decades is not entirely a case of old conservatives dying off and being replaced by more progressive-minded young folks.
Oh, sure, generation gaps are part of the situation. That's always been the case. But it's not really that simple.
I don't have any recent poll numbers at hand to support my point, but I don't really need any. When I wrote on this subject some years ago, I used results of a 2012 Gallup Report, which read in part as follows:
Americans are approaching unanimity in their views of marriages between blacks and whites, with 86% now approving of such unions. Americans' views on interracial marriage have undergone a major transformation in the past five decades. When Gallup first asked about black-white marriages in 1958, 4% approved. More Americans disapproved than approved until 1983, and approval did not exceed the majority level until 1997.
Today's older Americans, those aged 50 and older, are much more likely to approve of black-white marriage than people of the same age a generation ago; 78% today vs. 27% in 1991, a 51-point shift. At the same time, there has also been a 33-point increase among 18- to 29-year-olds (64% to 97%) and a 35-point increase among 30- to 49-year-olds (from 56% to 91%) between the two time periods.
Think about that. Public support for interracial marriage didn't reach a majority until 1997! I have food in my fridge that's older than that.
Certain other social issues — gay marriage and legalization of marijuana, to name just two — also have gained public support in recent years, sometimes in the wake of favorable court rulings. Gay marriage, for example, was legalized nationally by a Supreme Court decision rather than by federal legislation. But public reaction to the high court's ruling generally has been favorable, which would have been unthinkable not so long ago.
Meanwhile, recreational use of marijuana has been legalized in half a dozen states, and the trend is spreading. And one thing about this matter seems certain: states that have given the green light to selling and consuming weed don't seem likely to reverse course anytime soon. It saves taxpayers money and eases pressure on the criminal justice system.
But there's something else to consider about this increase is social liberalism among Americans in general. The Gallup organization made this point more than a decade ago:
The increase in approval of black-white marriage among all Americans… is probably more the result of changing attitudes within the population than it is changes in the composition of the population with more socially progressive younger adults replacing less progressive older ones. This is evident from examining the same age cohorts in 1991 and now. Each cohort shows 30 point or more increases in approval of black-white marriage today compared with the same group's attitudes 20 years ago.
Be that as it may, the fact remains that most of the obituaries published in local newspapers these days mark the passing of folks who were considerably less liberal than their progeny on matters of race, sexuality and the recreational use of soft drugs.