“Wokeness” is winning, according to an illuminating new poll that should — but probably won’t — make Republican politicians wary of hitching their wagon to the anger-fueled culture wars.
On “accepting people who are transgender,” 56 percent of respondents said our society “has been about right” or “has not gone far enough” — which should be lumped together as the “woke” positions, in my view, because they accept or welcome the way attitudes have changed. What I would call the “anti-woke” view, that we have “gone too far” in accepting transgender people, is held by 43 percent of those surveyed.
And it just gets more woke from there.
On “promoting equality between men and women,” 86 percent took the woke “about right” or “not gone far enough” positions, as opposed to 12 percent who espoused the anti-woke “gone too far” view. On “accepting people who are gay, lesbian, or bisexual,” the poll found respondents to be 69 percent woke versus 29 percent anti-woke. On “businesses taking steps to promote racial and ethnic diversity,” woke beat anti-woke, 70 percent to 28 percent. And on “schools and universities taking steps to promote racial and ethnic diversity,” wokeness ruled once again, 67 percent to 30 percent.
Even on the subject of pronouns, which GOP demagogues have sought to shift from the grammatical realm to the political, 58 percent of respondents were neutral or favorable toward the practice of specifying “he/him, she/her or they/them” in emails, on social media or in conversations; 42 percent were unfavorable. And on the narrower question of “being asked” to address someone with gender-neutral pronouns such as “they/them,” those polled were evenly divided.
In one of the poll’s most striking findings, respondents were asked, “Which of these concerns you more about schools today?” — and given the choice of two statements. A whopping 61 percent were more concerned that “some schools may ban books and censor topics that are educationally important,” as opposed to 36 percent who worried more that “some schools may teach books and topics that some students or their parents feel are inappropriate or offensive.”
It is always unwise to take any single poll as gospel. That said, the NORC survey is worth paying attention to because it appears to confirm what we see and hear all around us: Attitudes and language evolve. Americans my age remember a time, for example, when the LGBTQ community was widely shunned and closeted. My grandchildren, when they reach voting age, will wonder why people ever thought sexual orientation or gender identity was such a big deal.
Does the poll mean that MAGA activists will stop hectoring school boards to yank classics such as Nobel laureate Toni Morrison’s “Beloved” from library shelves? Sigh. Probably not.
It still shows a stark partisan divide. Seventy-five percent of respondents who identified as Republicans said we have “gone too far” in accepting transgender people, as opposed to just 15 percent of Democrats and 47 percent of independent voters. Majorities of Republicans also took the “gone too far” position on gay, lesbian and bisexual acceptance, and on promoting diversity in businesses, schools and universities — versus minorities of Democrats and independents who hold those views.
So there is an incentive for Republican politicians to keep hammering the “wokeness” issue in primary contests, because that’s what the GOP base wants to hear. But Democrats are offended by anti-woke messaging, according to the NORC poll, and independents — who decide our elections — appear to be unmoved.
The poll did have findings that suggest ways in which Republicans might tailor a few limited culture-war messages. While respondents said they support “taking steps” to increase diversity in universities, a majority of 56 percent opposed considering race or ethnicity in decisions about admissions. Sixty-three percent of those polled supported or were neutral about states giving parents vouchers to pay for tuition at private or religious schools. And 56 percent said transgender athletes should “only play on teams that match the sex assigned at their birth” — a position adopted last week by the World Athletics Council, which governs elite track-and-field competitions.
Some commentators, focusing on the poll’s findings about patriotism, religious observance and our national “character,” have suggested they see a retreat from what defines Americans.
But to me, the NORC poll shows Americans advancing in the right direction, toward inclusion rather than exclusion. It says most Americans don’t believe they’re living in a dystopia of “wokeism.” They’re just living in the here and now — not in the discriminatory, exclusionary past.