Guns, God and acceptable in-laws

An unhappy couple attends a wedding Liberals and conservatives have different opinions on who constitutes an acceptable spouse for their child

This week, the Pew Research Center released the largest political study in its history on what may be the most important issue in American politics - partisan and ideological polarisation. And we found that the right and left are divided over more than just politics.

Americans differ over what they want in a community, what types of people they want as neighbours and even over whom they would welcome into their families. (The full study is available here.)

In some ways, this last point may be most revealing: are Americans so politically divided that they would not like to see a family member marry someone from a different political party? For the public at large, a future in-law's partisan affiliation would be a minor factor: Just 9% say they'd be unhappy if a relative married a Republican, while about as many - 8% - would be unhappy with a Democratic in-law. Overwhelming majorities say it would not matter.

Yet these figures rise among those who hold consistent ideological attitudes and values: 30% of across-the-board conservatives would have a negative reaction to a relative marrying a Democrat, while 23% of consistent liberals would be bothered by a family member tying the knot with a Republican.

Other factors matter more, however. For the left, gun ownership would be a bigger potential negative than affiliation with the GOP. Nearly a third of across-the-board liberals would be unhappy if someone in their family married a gun owner. By contrast, gun ownership is a potential positive for many on the right: 49% of consistent conservatives say they'd be happy if a relative married someone who owned a firearm.

The Pew report revealed Americans are becoming more politically polarised in recent years. The BBC's David Botti looks at the numbers

The left and right make up a relatively small slice of the public - only 21% have ideologically consistent views across nearly all issues, but that figure has doubled over the past 20 years.

Among the public at large, the most negative reaction - among eight tested - would be toward a future in-law who did not believe in God. There is a huge divide between left and right over a relative marrying an atheist: it would be a problem for 73% of consistent conservatives but only 24% of consistent liberals.

Yet the gap is about as wide in positive reactions over a prospective in-law who is a "born again" Christian. A majority on the right - 57% - would be pleased if a family member married a born-again Christian; on the left, just 16% would have a positive reaction.

Large majorities of both conservatives (71%) and liberals (85%) say it would not matter if a relative married someone of a different race. Yet while the percentages are small, this would be a bigger potential negative for those on right than the left - 23% of consistent conservatives, compared with just 1% of consistent liberals, would be bothered by this.

On one level, these reactions may not be so surprising. We know that conservatives view religion as more important than do liberals, while liberals are more supportive of gun control than are conservatives. For both sides, these attitudes are a reflection of deeply held political opinions.

On the other hand, if the right and left have such profound differences over the traits and characteristics of potential in-laws, is it any wonder why they disagree so much about what to do in Washington?

Carroll Doherty is the director of political research at the Pew Research Center.



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  • rate this

    Comment number 78.

    67 mscracker
    What was written was "You are also not American so try and be respectful of other cultures"
    As far as I am concerned, as an American, anyone can say anything they want about America
    I can refute or support it, but a comment should not be silenced with this kind of criticism. If not respectful, thats part of his opinion

    Chris A's views are shared by many Americans anyway.

  • rate this

    Comment number 77.

    Re 74. Just a further note - Bush Jr let Bill Clinton's 'Assault Weapons Ban' of 1994 expire in 2004 under pressure from the NRA: When coupled with the 'well regulated militia' repeal by Jr's loaded SC in 2008, the 'assault weapons' recent landscape was a foregone conclusion! And much-more to come the logical forecast.

  • rate this

    Comment number 76.

    @73.Agent 00Soul ,
    Thanks for the link. I'd say "reel" as opposed to "real."

  • rate this

    Comment number 75.

    @53 AllenT2
    Why shouldn't anyone have an opinion on a "domestic issue" in another nation?
    Seriously ?
    You really think that apartheid in South Africa was not considered a Domestic issue and subject to that same argument.
    It's no good saying we have the best country in the world regardless of how we behave.
    You have to behave like the Best in the world and hear from others to make a comparison

  • rate this

    Comment number 74.

    72. Why is the issue of gun ownership now freedom to buy whatever fire power is on offer from the semi automatic folks who also build automatics for the military? A rifle for hunting or a .38 for home security is a far cry from the weapons used in the Gabby Giffords, Aurora and Sandy Hook massacres! The 2008 SC decision trashed the 1939 ruling: Feds & States to decide firepower!


Comments 5 of 78


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