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 18.

    Moonwolf: Wilcox' attempt to confront what he thought was a lone gunman probably derailed plans the murderers had

    Joseph Wilcox saved hundreds of lives
    but no one hardly knows
    because they keep leaving him out of the story

    If Wilcox hadn't of intervened things would have been much much worse

    Give credit where credit is due

    But liberal media doesn't want to give him credit because he had a gun

  • rate this

    Comment number 17.


    The rise of ultra-nationalism seems to happen with depressing frequency when economic times are down the tubes. I seem to recall the UK wasn't the only place where fright-wingers sunk their hooks in deeper.

    Be it BNP, NF, UKIP, EF, Tea Party, , they're pretty much alike - and equally dangerous

  • rate this

    Comment number 16.

    14. Moonwolf
    But it's not just in the US - sorry, but which party just got a shock election result in the UK?

    A sad but truthful point
    I watch in horror from the across the pond, as my home country has only 2 choices.
    It's between those who refuse to listen (more Europe) and those who play soley to the Peanut Gallery (no foreigners here)

    How the mighty have fallen

  • rate this

    Comment number 15.

    Joseph Wilcox would be alive today if he had not been armed with a gun.

    He was not trained for this kind of a situation and his gun was not used to help anyone. The only result was that now Joseph Wilcox is dead too.

    He may have wanted to be a hero..and his heart might have been in the right place..but the end result is he is also dead now and he changed nothing in the situation.

  • rate this

    Comment number 14.

    As a side note, if people's idea of keeping abreast with current affairs is to be spoon fed mass market media (of any stripe), and they're too lazy to go find out more themselves, you end up with polarized survey results like this one.

    But it's not just in the US - sorry, but which party just got a shock election result in the UK?

    You've got idealogical crazies just as bad over there :P

  • rate this

    Comment number 13.

    @9. LucyJ

    Infowars !!!! (The truth is out there!!!!!!)

    Oh I hope they bring back Elvis

  • rate this

    Comment number 12.

    Anderson Cooper interviewed the mother & sister of Joseph Wilcox (the Wal-Mart victim) last night, his legal ownership of a firearm was discussed. CNN's covered it when I've seen it.

    Many believe Wilcox' attempt to confront what he thought was a lone gunman probably derailed plans the murderers had, even though he didn't have a chance to directly engage.

  • rate this

    Comment number 11.

    The key points of this study show the almost hysterical polarization of the US public on many issues, especially regarding religion and guns. My recommendation: just don't visit!

  • rate this

    Comment number 10.

    @4. LucyJ
    It's a conspiracy, like man made global warming, Evolution, gay marriage, Universal Educational, Heaathcare reform,,,,

    You tell em

  • rate this

    Comment number 9.

    Cape: An armed bystander at the Wal-Mart did TRY to stop the shooters

    Why is liberal media not reporting such?

    Just this morning there was no mention of Joseph Wilcox

    Bespokesman: Apparently Fox News, Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck are superior news sources

    As I said look up INDEPENDENT news sources like Infowars or other websites with no political affiliations or agendas

    The truth is out there

  • rate this

    Comment number 8.

    4.LucyJ "This is why liberal media can't be trusted" - It’s comments like this which completely undermine the author’s credibility and demonstrate a lack of the subtle critical-thinking skills necessary to make independent, well-reasoned judgments. Apparently Fox News, Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck are superior news sources. There’s a reason why Rush’s followers are called ‘Ditto-Heads’.

  • rate this

    Comment number 7.

    Lucy J.--An armed bystander at the Wal-Mart did TRY to stop the shooters. However, they killed him before he could fire. All three of the victims--the two policemen at the pizza place, the bystander at the Wal-Mart--were armed. After police arrived at the Wal-Mart and cornered the killers, the female shooter shot herself and her husband.

  • rate this

    Comment number 6.

    So with the liberal media not even reporting that a guy with a gun stopped the Nevada gun shootings
    its no wonder liberals think the way they do

    Liberals simply listen to their media which promotes their agenda
    and distorts or simply leaves out the truth

    If liberals heard stories that guns save lives
    would they still be so against such?

    Likely not which is why liberal media won't report it

  • rate this

    Comment number 5.

    I'm not one of those people who think stereotypes are a crime against humanity, but taking them to this level is pretty silly.

    Bashing American only makes the UK look petty, envious and weak.

  • rate this

    Comment number 4.

    In regards to liberals and guns,
    just look at liberal media

    On many reports about Nevada shooting
    liberal media does not even mention
    that the guy who stopped the shooters was carrying a gun legally

    So we have guns to thank for stopping this shooting

    Yet the liberal media isn't telling anyone this guy existed
    or that he died saving everyone else

    This is why liberal media can't be trusted

  • rate this

    Comment number 3.

    I guess I am an atypical problem with any religious views short of human sacrifice, gun ownership is ok, another race? great !

    But marrying a Republican ? This is a calamity. Imo Repub are either stupid, craven, have a borderline personality disorder or are full blown sociopaths. Anyone who is intelligent and cares about others has left that party.

  • rate this

    Comment number 2.

    I grew up in USA, but have lived in the UK for most of my adult life.It's interesting to have my feet in both camps.The relative openness, the quality of the press, the NHS are only a few of the reasons why I would not want to return to live in the US.I'm ashamed of the gun culture and disturbed by the lack of health care for the unfortunate poor that live in the richest country in the world.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1.

    This is what makes Thanksgiving gatherings so interesting, and it's also why I prefer to sit at the kids' table!


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