A new CBS News/ New York Times poll finds that the wording of the question is key when it comes to determining whether Americans support allowing gays to serve in the military.
In the poll, 59 percent say they now support allowing "homosexuals" to serve in the U.S. military, including 34 percent who say they strongly favor that. Ten percent say they somewhat oppose it and 19 percent say they strongly oppose it.
But the numbers differ when the question is changed to whether Americans support "gay men and lesbians" serving in the military. When the question is asked that way, 70 percent of Americans say they support gay men and lesbians serving in the military, including 19 percent who say they somewhat favor it. Seven percent somewhat oppose it, and 12 percent strongly oppose it.
When it comes to whether Americans support allowing gays to serve openly, there is also a difference based on the term used. When referred to as "homosexuals," 44 percent favor allowing them to serve openly. When referred to as "gay men and lesbians," the percentage rises to 58 percent.
In his State of the Union address last month, President Obama vowed to end the policy that bars gays and lesbians from serving openly in the military – commonly referred to as "Don't Ask, Don't Tell."
No matter the term used, support for gays to serve in the military has risen since 1993, when the debate arose early in Bill Clinton's presidency. In 1993, 42 percent said they favored allowing homosexuals to serve, with 21 percent saying they strongly favored it; that compared to 42 percent who opposed allowing them to serve (29 percent strongly). In 1993, 37 percent said they supported allowing homosexuals to serve openly and 56 percent opposed.
However, support is down from one year ago, when 67 percent said they supported allowing homosexuals to serve (46 percent strongly).
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CBS News Poll Database
This poll was conducted among a random sample of 1,084 adults nationwide, interviewed by telephone February 5-10, 2010. Phone numbers were dialed from random digit dial samples of both standard land-line and cell phones. The error due to sampling for results based on the entire sample could be plus or minus three percentage points. The error for subgroups is higher.
This poll release conforms to the Standards of Disclosure of the National Council on Public Polls.