No Going Back

The New Abortion Poll and Obama's Biggest Impact

Support for abortion rights at highest levels ever, and the broader cultural changes under Obama.

It seems only a couple of years ago (although they do pass rather quickly, so it might have been five) that all the wise people were saying that support for abortions rights was decreasing, especially among young people. I thought that had hardened into conventional wisdom.

So imagine my surprise to encounter this new WSJ/NBC poll this morning with support for abortion rights at an all time high on this 40th anniversary of the Roe decision. Fully 70 percent support Roe v. Wade, and those supporting the right in most circumstances constitute a solid majority:

Some 31% of respondents in the poll said abortion should always be legal, and 9% believed it should be illegal without any exceptions. Between those two opinions are the 23% who thought it should be legal most of the time, but with some exceptions, and the 35% who felt it should be illegal except in circumstances of rape, incest and to save a woman's life.

Same-sex marriage approval. Marijuana legalized. Now this. It continues to amaze me how the country has flipped culturally. I think this is probably Obama's biggest impact, more than health care or anything else. He's changed the political culture of the country. In some senses by doing particular things--repealing don't ask, don't tell. But in other senses just by being Barack Obama.

In accepting him as their president (which 70 percent of Americans happily do, even when they may disagree with this or that policy), Americans appear also to have accept in some internal way that it's a different time and a different country now. It seems natural that that psychic change would first manifest itself in certain shifting cultural attitudes, as these are low-hanging fruit compared to the big policy changes that face ferocious opposition in Washington.

It may also be that it's not really Obama who made these changes, that they were well in formation when he just happened to come along and embody them. I think here of the Beatles as an analogy. They certainly changed the culture and the world and led a revolution, but many societal factors were lined up in harmony just waiting for someone to come along and pop the cork: the rise of the teenage demographic, the end of conscription (in Britain, which gave young males more freedom), and so on. Everything came together and boom it all went. Same kind of thing here.

Which means that there is no turning back. The Supreme Court can overturn Roe, I suppose, and outlaw same-sex marriage. These would be setbacks, but they would also be rearguard actions that wouldn't hold for long.