In the last two weeks, the Supreme Court issued decisions on landmark cases concerning equality and people's rights, including Affirmative Action, voting rights, and rights for same-sex couples. The Opportunity Agenda has issued public opinion reports and media coverage analysis, which examine a range of issues concerning equality and rights. Most relevant today are The Opportunity Agenda's studies on LGBT rights and Affirmative Action, the highlights of which are shared below.
For concerned activists and advocates who are thinking about the road ahead post-Supreme Court decisions, this is an important time to better understand the public mindset around these issues.
LGBT people and rights
Views on rights for LGBT people have changed drastically in as little as a single decade. Below, I have summed up overall trends in Americans' atittudes on the issue and the affect of race, gender, age, and religion on these attitudes—based on an in-depth meta-analysis of related public opinion published by The Opportunity Agenda earlier this year.
Support for marriage equality is at an all-time high: 53% of Americans support it, compared to 45 who oppose it. Champions of support include: Jews (76%), Catholics (57%), White Protestants (53%), young people (61%), and women (54%) (ABC News/Washington Post, March 2011).
Overall support for marriage equality increased by 13 points in just three years, from 38 percent in 2008 to 51 percent in 2011 (PRRI). The shift “has been broad-based, occurring across many demographic, political, and religious groups" (Pew, September 2010). Among people in their 30s, support for marriage equality rose 23 points in just five years, from 42% in 2005 to 65% today (ABC News/Washington Post, March 2011).
LGBT individuals themselves, according to a new survey by Pew, are more likely to perceive discrimination not just against themselves but also against other groups with a legacy of discrimination. Almost all (92%) say society has become more accepting of them in the past decade. Most LGBT adults interviewed also say that at some point they have experienced overt discrimination by other individuals because of their sexual orientation, such as feeling unwelcome in a place of worship (29%), been threatened or physically attached (30%) or have been subject to slurs or jokes (58%). Overall, LGBT individuals, who were surveyed by Pew, are are more liberal, more Democratic, younger than the general public, less happy with their lives, and, their family incomes are lower than average, which may be related to their relative young age and the smaller size of their households.
To read more about public opinion on LGBT issues, see The Opportunity Agenda's report.
The question of if equality and equal opportunity for all racial and ethnic groups is a reality in the U.S. today triggers many conflicting views for most Americans. Perhaps, in part, because the ways that equality is ensured is under-understood. Decades after the Civil Rights Movement and the introduction of laws such as the Voting Rights Act and Affirmative Action, Americans tend to think about equal opportunity, or lack of, as a result of individual action rather than the actions and policies of institutions, such as government agencies and universities.
By Jill Mizell
While Americans believe strongly in upholding equal opportunity, many also believe that equal opportunity already exists. Most Americans acknowledge that discrimination is still a problem, but tend to attribute disparities to class or income level, rather than racial or ethnic discrimination, and are more likely to believe that people who can’t get ahead are responsible for their own condition.
While most believe the government should have a role in ensuring equal opportunity, a growing minority of Americans believe the government should not play a role. There is broad support for programs that seek to help women and people of color “get better jobs and education,” across gender, party identification, income level, race and ethnicity, educational attainment, and age, and support for this description of affirmative action has grown in the last 20 years.
Support for affirmative action decreases, particularly among whites, when the scope of a program is focused on race alone, and when the terms “special preferences” or “preferential treatment” are used. Most acknowledge that affirmative action programs help minorities, and that disadvantaged groups want equal rights as opposed to “special rights,” but opinion is split as to whether affirmative action is an approach that benefits everyone.
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