November 29, 2010

Most Continue to Favor Gays Serving Openly in Military

As the Pentagon prepares to release its highly anticipated survey of military personnel about the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy, most Americans (58%) say they favor allowing homosexuals to serve openly in the armed forces. Fewer than half that number (27%) oppose allowing gays and lesbians to serve openly.

These opinions have changed little in recent years. Since 2005 – including three surveys this year – roughly 60% have consistently favored permitting homosexuals to serve openly in the military. There is greater support for permitting gays to serve openly today than there was in 1994, after President Clinton put in place the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy. In July of

Consistent Support for Gays Serving Openly in the Military
that year, 52% said they favored allowing gays and lesbians to serve openly in the military while 45% said they opposed allowing this.

The national survey by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press and the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life, conducted Nov. 4-7 among 1,255 adults, finds continuing partisan and religious differences in opinions about whether to permit gays and lesbians to serve openly in the nation’s armed forces.

Large majorities of Democrats (70%) and independents (62%) favor allowing gays to serve openly. Republicans are divided (40% favor, 44% oppose). Among conservative Republicans, far more oppose than favor allowing gays to serve openly (52% to 28%).

Nearly half (48%) of white evangelical Protestants oppose letting gays serve openly in the military, while just 34% support this proposal. Majorities or pluralities across other religious groups favor allowing gays to serve openly.

The balance of opinion across age groups is in favor of letting gays serve openly. Those 65 and older are the only age group in which fewer than half (44%) favors this; still just 28% of seniors are opposed to gays and lesbians serving openly while an identical percentage offers no opinion.

Partisan, Religious Differences Over Gays in the Military

Two-thirds of college graduates (67%) favor gays and lesbians serving openly, as do more than half of those with some college experience (55%) and those with no more than a high school education (54%).

The differences in opinions across political and demographic groups also were evident in 1994. Since then, the balance of opinion among most groups has become more favorable.  (For more on changes in opinion about gays in the military, see Support for Same-Sex Marriage Edges Upward, Oct. 6, 2010.)

Tea Party Republicans Are Less Supportive

Tea Party Republicans less Supportive of Gays Serving Openly Among all Republicans and Republican leaners, those who agree with the Tea Party are less supportive of allowing gays to serve openly than are those who disagree with the Tea Party or have no opinion of the movement.

Only about four-in-ten (38%) Republicans and Republican leaners who agree with the Tea Party favor allowing gays to serve openly while 48% are opposed. Among those who disagree with the Tea Party or have no opinion of the movement, 52% favor letting gays serve openly and just 30% are opposed.

About the Surveys

Most of the analysis in this report is based on telephone interviews conducted November 4-7, 2010 among a national sample of 1,255 adults 18 years of age or older living in the continental United States (828 respondents were interviewed on a landline telephone, and 427 were interviewed on a cell phone, including 189 who had no landline telephone). Interviewing was conducted under the direction of Princeton Survey Research Associates International. Both the landline and cell phone samples were provided by Survey Sampling International. Interviews were conducted in English. For detailed information about our survey methodology, see: http://people-press.org/methodology/

The combined landline and cell phone sample are weighted using an iterative technique that matches gender, age, education, race/ethnicity, region, and population density to parameters from the March 2009 Census Bureau’s Current Population Survey. The sample also is weighted to match current patterns of telephone status and relative usage of landline and cell phones (for those with both), based on extrapolations from the 2009 National Health Interview Survey. The weighting procedure also accounts for the fact that respondents with both landline and cell phones have a greater probability of being included in the combined sample and adjusts for household size within the landline sample. Sampling errors and statistical tests of significance take into account the effect of weighting. The following table shows the error attributable to sampling that would be expected at the 95% level of confidence for different groups in the survey:

About Gays in the Military Survey

In addition to sampling error, one should bear in mind that question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of opinion polls.

About the Projects

The report is a joint effort of the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press and
the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life. Both organizations are sponsored by the Pew Charitable Trusts and are projects of the Pew Research Center, a nonpartisan “fact tank” that provides information on the issues, attitudes and trends shaping America and the world.

The Pew Research Center for the People & the Press is an independent opinion research group that studies attitudes toward the press, politics and public policy issues.  The Center’s purpose is to serve as a forum for ideas on the media and public policy through public opinion research. In this role it serves as an important information resource for political leaders, journalists, scholars, and public interest organizations. All of the Center’s current survey results are made available free of charge.

The Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life seeks to promote a deeper understanding of issues at the intersection of religion and public affairs. It studies public opinion, demographics and other important aspects of religion and public life in the U.S. and around the world. It also provides a neutral venue for discussions of timely issues through roundtables and briefings.

This report is a collaborative product based on the input and analysis of the following individuals:

Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life
Luis Lugo, Director
Alan Cooperman, Associate Director
Sandra Stencel, Associate Director
Greg Smith, Senior Researcher
John C. Green, Senior Research Advisor
Neha Sahgal and Christine Bhutta,  Research Associates
Scott Clement, Research Analyst
Tracy Miller and Hilary Ramp, Editors
Diana Yoo, Graphic Designer

Pew Research Center for the People & the Press
Andrew Kohut, Director
Scott Keeter, Director of Survey Research
Carroll Doherty, Associate Director, Editorial
Michael Dimock, Associate Director, Research
Michael Remez, Senior Writer
Leah Christian and Jocelyn Kiley, Senior Researchers
Robert Suls, Shawn Neidorf and Alec Tyson, Research Associates
Jacob Poushter, Research Analyst
Danielle Gewurz, Research Assistant

Photo credit: Scott Olson/Getty Images