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Acceptance of Gay People in Military Grows Dramatically

By Kyle Dropp and Jon Cohen
Washington Post Staff Writers
Saturday, July 19, 2008

Public attitudes about gays in the military have shifted dramatically since President Bill Clinton unveiled what became his administration's "don't ask, don't tell" policy 15 years ago today.

Seventy-five percent of Americans in a new Washington Post-ABC News poll said gay people who are open about their sexual orientation should be allowed to serve in the U.S. military, up from 62 percent in early 2001 and 44 percent in 1993.

Majorities of Democrats, Republicans and independents alike now believe it is acceptable for openly gay people to serve in the U.S. armed forces. Shortly after he took office in 1993, Clinton faced strong resistance to his campaign pledge to lift the military's ban on allowing gay people to enlist. At that time, 67 percent of Republicans and 75 percent of conservatives opposed the idea. A majority of independents, 56 percent, and 45 percent of Democrats also opposed changing the policy.

Today, Americans have become more supportive of allowing openly gay men and women to serve in the armed forces. Support from Republicans has doubled over the past 15 years, from 32 to 64 percent. More than eight in 10 Democrats and more than three-quarters of independents now support the idea, as did nearly two-thirds of self-described conservatives.

Changing attitudes on the issue parallel broader swings in public views about homosexuality. In their recent review of 20 years of polling data, the Pew Research Center reported "a major shift away from highly negative attitudes toward gays and support for punitive actions against gays." In the 2007 Pew data, for example, 28 percent said local school boards should have the right to fire teachers known to be gay; that was down sharply from the 51 percent who said so in 1987.

In the new Post-ABC poll, military veterans are less apt than others to say gay people should be allowed in the military. While 71 percent of veterans said gay people who do not declare themselves as such should be allowed to serve, that number drops sharply, to 50 percent, for those who are open about their sexuality. Non-veterans, by contrast, are as likely to support those who "tell" as those who do not.

Fifty-seven percent of white evangelical Protestants now support allowing openly gay service members in the military, compared with 82 percent of white Catholics and 80 percent of those with no declared religious affiliation. Three-quarters of both married and single people support the idea, both significantly higher than in 1993.

Across all three periodic Post-ABC surveys on the issue, women have been more apt than men to support gays in the military. Today, more than eight in 10 women support allowing openly gay soldiers, compared with nearly two-thirds of men. Fifteen years ago, half of women supported this stance; nearly two-thirds of men opposed it.

Furthermore, large majorities across age and education categories now support allowing openly gay individuals to serve in the military.

The Post-ABC poll was conducted by telephone July 10 to 13, among a random national sample of 1,119 adults. The results have a margin of sampling error of plus or minus three percentage points. Error margins are larger for subgroups.

Polling analyst Jennifer Agiesta contributed to this report.

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