Public Favors Expansion of Hate Crime Law to Include Sexual Orientation

by Frank Newport

Majorities of Republicans, conservatives, and frequent church attenders in favor

GALLUP NEWS SERVICE

PRINCETON, NJ -- A substantial majority of the American public favors the expansion of federal hate crime legislation to include crimes against people based on their gender, sexual orientation, and gender identity. The U.S. House of Representatives has passed such legislation, which is now being considered by the Senate. Republicans, conservatives, and religious Americans are slightly less likely than others to favor the expansion of hate crime legislation, but a majority of those in each of these conservative and religious groups favors the proposed legislation.

Background

H.R. 1592, the Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act of 2007 passed by the U.S. House in early May and now being considered by the Senate, has become quite controversial in some circles. The bill would expand existing federal hate crime legislation to include crimes committed on the basis of the victim's gender, sexual orientation, or gender identity.

The Senate version of the bill is called the Matthew Shepard Act, named after the Wyoming college student whose brutal murder in 1998 has been used as a dramatic example of hate crimes based on sexual orientation. Gay and lesbian groups have widely supported the bill as a measure to help prevent future crimes of the same nature.

On the other hand, conservative and religious groups have mounted extensive opposition campaigns to the bill. These operations include the "National Hate Crimes Petition Day," organized by Repent America, during which religious Americans were asked to signal their opposition to the legislation. The opposition is based on the argument that the new law would curtail the ability of religious Americans to speak out in opposition of homosexuality. As Christian right leader and founder of Focus on the Family Dr. James Dobson said, "The Hate Crimes Act will be the first step to criminalize our rights as Christians to believe that some behaviors are sinful. Pastors preaching from Scripture on homosexuality could be threatened with persecution and prosecution." These religious groups have support from the White House, which issued a Statement of Administration Policy saying that, "If H.R. 1592 were presented to the president, his senior advisors would recommend that he veto the bill."

Public Opinion About Hate Crime Legislation

A May 10-13, 2007, national Gallup Poll included two questions about federal hate crime laws. The first asked about the current federal law that covers hate crimes committed on the basis of the victim's race, color, religion, or national origin. Almost 8 out of 10 Americans say they support the current legislation.

Now, thinking about what have been called "hate crimes" -- those crimes committed because the criminal hates the group of people to which the victim belongs. As you may know, federal law currently allows prosecution of hate crimes committed on the basis of the victim's race, color, religion or national origin. Do you favor or oppose these laws?

                       

Favor

Oppose

No opinion

2007 May 10-13

78%

18

4

The second question asks about the expansion of the hate crime legislation to include the victim's gender, sexual orientation, or gender identity. Support for the expansion is somewhat lower than support for the existing law, but still very substantial.

There is a proposal to expand federal hate crime laws to include crimes committed on the basis of the victim's gender, sexual orientation, or gender identity. Would you favor or oppose expanding the federal hate crime laws in this way?

Favor

Oppose

No opinion

2007 May 10-13

68%

27

5

Although many Americans may be unfamiliar with the pending new law, there appears to be little hesitation to offer an opinion. Only 5% of Americans say they don't have an opinion about the expansion of the law.

Views of Republicans, Conservatives, Religious Americans

Much of the organized opposition to the expansion of the hate crime law has come from conservative religious groups, while the nation's top Republican leader, President George W. Bush, has suggested he will veto the legislation if it reaches his desk. But there is little evidence from these data to suggest that a majority of Republicans, conservatives, or more religious Americans are opposed to the new law.

There is a proposal to expand federal hate crime laws to include crimes committed on the basis of the victim's gender, sexual orientation, or gender identity. Would you favor or oppose expanding the federal hate crime laws in this way?

Favor

Oppose

%

%

TOTAL

68

27

 

 

Republicans

60

34

Independents

69

27

Democrats

75

21

 

 

Conservatives

57

37

Moderates

74

22

Liberals

82

15

 

 

Protestant and other non-catholic Christians

65

30

Catholics

72

23

Other religion

74

23

No religious identity

74

25

 

 

Attend church weekly

64

30

Attend church almost every week/monthly

67

29

Attend church seldom, never

73

23

Americans who identify themselves as Republicans, conservatives, Protestants and other non-Catholic Christians, and those who attend church weekly are slightly less likely than other groups to favor the expansion of the hate crimes legislation to cover gender, sexual orientation, and gender identity. And while the difference between conservatives and liberals, for example, is 25 percentage points in support level (57% for conservatives, 82% for liberals), no group identifiable in Gallup's standard categories used for subgroup analysis expresses less than majority support for the type of action passed by the U.S. House in H.R. 1592.

Bottom Line

The religious and conservative leaders who are mounting a campaign against H.R. 1592 have their work cut out for them. The data reviewed in this analysis indicate that there is strong majority support for the expansion of hate crime legislation to include sexual orientation, gender, and gender identity among the general American population. Specifically, there is majority support among identifiable groups of Christians, frequent church attenders, conservatives, and Republicans for expansion of the legislation.

Those opposed to the law may argue that many Americans are not aware of the implications of the law. That may be the case. It is a reasonable assumption (although not one provable by currently available data) that many Americans were unaware of this legislation before it was explained to them in the context of the May 10-13, 2007, Gallup Poll survey.

The challenge for opponents is that the fundamental idea of the new law seems acceptable to every identifiable subgroup of the Americans population. More conservative and religious subgroups of the population may be amenable to arguments about the hidden or unanticipated consequences of the legislation if presented to them through targeted media in the weeks to come, but convincing them of these facts would appear to be an uphill battle.

Survey Methods

Results are based on telephone interviews with 1,003 national adults, aged 18 and older, conducted May 10-13, 2007. For results based on the total sample of national adults, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum margin of sampling error is ±3 percentage points. In addition to sampling error, question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of public opinion polls.

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Gallup http://www.gallup.com/poll/27613/public-favors-expansion-hate-crime-law-include-sexual-orientation.aspx
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