Are the Culture Wars Coming to an End?

The culture wars may not be over just yet. But they sure do seem to be winding down. Consider these data on gay marriage—perhaps the most contentious of all cultural issues—from the most recent Washington Post/ABC News poll. In that poll for the first time a plurality of Americans (49-46) endorsed the idea that it should be legal for gay and lesbian couples to get married. And support for legalizing gay marriage was even higher among 18- to 29-year-olds (66 percent). This suggests that we will see even stronger public support for gay marriage as more members of the rising Millennial generation enter adulthood in years to come.

chart one

The other hot issue with culture wars overtones has been immigration. Here we also find evidence that tolerant attitudes are growing. In the same poll, 61 percent supported a program to allow illegal immigrants now living in the United States to live here legally if they pay a fine and meet other requirements, compared to 35 percent who opposed such a program. That’s up from a narrow 49-46 split in favor back in December of 2007. And, as with gay marriage, support for immigration reform is even stronger among young Americans at 73 percent.

chart two

These trends are encouraging for our country and our future, if yet more bad news for conservatives. If they can’t rely on culture war issues to pump up their support, they’ll have to convince average Americans that the policies they advocate actually work and will solve people’s problems. Given that they have little to offer except retreads from the disastrous Bush administration, it could be a tough sell.

Read more public opinion from Ruy Teixeira.