The Abortion Debate Is Not Part of the Culture Wars





(Bloomberg Opinion) -- The latest front in America's culture wars is in Alabama. Or is it Georgia? Mississippi? Ohio? All these states, plus a few more, have passed anti-abortion statutes recently, yet more evidence of the intense polarization around issues of gender, sex and religion.

As usual, it's not quite that simple. Abortion may be a uniquely divisive issue, and there are growing divisions among Americans along racial and economic lines. When it comes to issues of gender, sex and religion, however, Americans seem to be moving in tandem - and becoming more tolerant.

The so-called culture wars, according to new research from two sociologists at New York University, are not necessarily about the direction of change, but about the pace of it. Simply put, Democrats change before Republicans do.

An example: In 1996, a third of Democrats and only 16% of Republicans supported same-sex marriage. By 2017, the split was 74% to 47%. Both parties are changing, but the point is that the relative gap between them has narrowed. And while Democrats got to a supermajority faster, now Republicans are changing their views more quickly; Democratic support is leveling off while Republican support is accelerating. From 2013 to 2017, Democratic support edged up just one percentage point, while Republican support rose 19 percentage points.

It's a common pattern described in the research as "an inverse U-shaped curve." At first, the difference between the two parties on an issue is small. Then the Democratic Party begins to shift rapidly. The partisan gap widens. Eventually, however, Democrats hit a plateau just as Republicans are starting to shift. This causes the gap to close almost as rapidly as it opened.

The authors of the research, Delia Baldassarri and Barum Park, have analyzed the voting patterns of Americans over 44 years on dozens of economic, foreign-policy and civil-rights issues. They report that this U-shaped pattern holds for what they call "moral issues" - a category that includes gender, sexuality, women's rights and religion.

In one sense, this research simply validates what may be an obvious intuition. As Zach Goldberg, a political scientist at Georgia State University, told me: "Conservatives are slow to change on most issues. They are conservative, after all!"

But there can still be underappreciated consequences to such an observation. One of them is that this pattern can obscure larger trends.

For example, there is growing concern about America's isolationist turn, and fear that the U.S. is becoming more closed to trade and immigration. The truth is precisely the opposite. Americans have never been more open to free trade or immigration. It's just that, as with social issues, the views of Democrats are shifting much faster than those of Republicans.

The great exception to this pattern is the abortion debate. Overall, perhaps surprisingly, Americans have roughly the same views on abortion now as they did in the years just after Roe v. Wade was decided in 1973. At the same time, the debate has become more polarized over the last four decades: In the 1970s, Democrats and Republicans were about equally likely to support abortion restrictions. Today it is one of the most divisive issues between the two parties.

This points to a more fundamental divide than exists over most cultural topics. For whatever reason, there is no evidence in the data of a convergence of views. Where the country is headed is anyone's guess. What's clear is that the abortion debate and any wider culture war are proceeding along very different trajectories.

To contact the author of this story: Karl W. Smith at ksmith602@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Michael Newman at mnewman43@bloomberg.net

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial board or Bloomberg LP and its owners.

Karl W. Smith is a former assistant professor of economics at the University of North Carolina's school of government and founder of the blog Modeled Behavior.

For more articles like this, please visit us at bloomberg.com/opinion

©2019 Bloomberg L.P.

COMMENTS

More Related News

Argentina Is Running Dangerously Low on Dollars to Pay Back Debt
Argentina Is Running Dangerously Low on Dollars to Pay Back Debt

(Bloomberg) -- Argentina must repay $5 billion by the end of 2019. It doesn't have much to work with.While the country's foreign reserves total a still somewhat robust $43 billion, that figure shrinks markedly once untouchable assets such as dollar deposits of everyday Argentines and a credit line from China are stripped out. Analysts surveyed by Bloomberg News estimate that the amount that policy makers can actually freely spend is no more than $12.5 billion. One of the analysts, Siobhan Morden of Amherst Pierpont Securities, puts the figure at as little as $6.5 billion."If you run out of money, you run out of money," Morden, who runs the firm's Latin America fixed-income strategy from...

Facing $5 Billion Tab, Argentina
Facing $5 Billion Tab, Argentina's Reserves Are Drying Up Fast

(Bloomberg) -- Argentina must repay $5 billion by the end of 2019. It doesn't have much to work with.While the country's foreign reserves total a still somewhat robust $43 billion, that figure shrinks markedly once untouchable assets such as dollar deposits of everyday Argentines and a credit line from China are stripped out. Analysts surveyed by Bloomberg News estimate that the amount that policy makers can actually freely spend is no more than $12.5 billion. One of the analysts, Siobhan Morden of Amherst Pierpont Securities, puts the figure at as little as $6.5 billion."If you run out of money, you run out of money," Morden, who runs the firm's Latin America fixed-income strategy from...

Fight Over Hong Kong
Fight Over Hong Kong's Future Grows More Grim
  • World
  • 2019-11-12 10:45:06Z

(Bloomberg) -- Want to receive this post in your inbox every day? Sign up for the Balance of Power newsletter, and follow Bloomberg Politics on Twitter and Facebook for more.The pictures out of Hong Kong over the past few days have been particularly worrisome: a protester shot by police at point-blank range, an older man set ablaze, a truck driver beaten by demonstrators.While only one fatality has been linked to the protests since they began five months ago, that number could easily be higher. Police and protesters are locked in a fight over how much control Beijing has in one of Asia's top financial hubs.For the protesters, the use of force has always been a necessary evil. At the start...

KKR Makes Formal Approach to Walgreens Boots on Record Buyout
KKR Makes Formal Approach to Walgreens Boots on Record Buyout

(Bloomberg) -- KKR & Co. has formally approached drugstore giant Walgreens Boots Alliance Inc. about a deal to take the company private, in what could be the biggest-ever leveraged buyout, people familiar with the matter said.The New York-based private equity firm has been preparing a proposal to potentially

Latin American Politics Still a Military Affair
Latin American Politics Still a Military Affair
  • World
  • 2019-11-11 10:48:39Z

(Bloomberg) -- Want to receive this post in your inbox every day? Sign up for the Balance of Power newsletter, and follow Bloomberg Politics on Twitter and Facebook for more.In the end it was the military that helped settle it.Having hung on for weeks in the face of protests and opposition claims he'd rigged an election, Bolivia's socialist President Evo Morales was forced into a corner yesterday.First the Organization of American States said widespread irregularities meant it was statistically unlikely Morales obtained enough votes to avoid a runoff. Then the armed forces chief called for him to go. And even as he described it as a coup, South America's longest-serving leader swiftly...

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked with *

Cancel reply

Comments

Top News: Asia