Switching political opinions

I was wondering how common it is for people to switch political opinions. To be more precise, I am curious about anecdotal accounts of straightdope posters and lurkers having done so. Also, I mean actually changing your opinion. As an example, my neighbor is a “chameleon” and he seems to have no opinions of his own, merely always agreeing with whoever he is talking to. He probably just wants to avoid arguments, but that’s an example of what I’m NOT interested in. Also, I do not care about opinions that changed between the time that one was a know-nothing teenager and adulthood, because I am sure the majority of people change many political opinions during that time. Here’s an example of what I am curious about. In my twenties I was STRONGLY pro-choice, sometime in my thirties I became pro-life, and I have recently changed my mind back to pro-choice (I’m 40, btw). The reason for my flip-flopping was, in my thirties, I decided life begins at conception, therefore abortion is murder if done without extenuating circumstances (rape, etc.). Recently, although I still believe life begins at conception, I feel that making abortion illegal leads directly to so much pain and suffering, that my former stance of “should of kept your legs shut” was the type of myopic, holier-than-thou thinking that I supposedly abhor. I’m not naive, but I was being willfully naive, sticking my head in the sand in an attempt to turn a complex issue into a black and white issue. Also, I do not care about people debating this stuff! If you are pro-life, and what I just wrote boils your blood, it was not my intention. I was describing my thought process that led to me changing my mind on such an inflammatory topic, I know I’m not going to change anyone else’s mind. I simply want to know how common this is among straightdope members.
Once again, please no arguing, that’s what Great Debates is for.

Since the OP is asking about personal experiences, let’s move this to IMHO.

General Questions Moderator

I have changed my opinions on a few fronts, politically speaking, though it really comes to one major root change: basically, I’ve decided that morality-via-law is a bad idea.

I’m still personally as opposed to abortion as it is possible to get, but I’ve decided to stop voting that way. If you can do it and live with yourself, then I guess that’s your problem. I have no interest in locking you and the doctors up, or in having ongoing regulations and investigations to try to make sure you didn’t do it.

I’ve come around on marijuana the same way. And many other drugs for that matter. Even the legal sale of drugs like tobacco and alcohol create massive criminal enterprises to avoid the extra taxes. Is it really worth the extra police, courts, prisons, regulations, inspections, etc. to stop you from killing yourself or to raise a little extra tax revenue on certain substances?

Same sex marriage. Euthanasia. Child porn (especially of the sort made by teens and sent to teens). Sodomy laws and all the relative baggage (polygamy, polyamory, bestiality, whatever). Maybe even slavery, though not under the rules of the old American South.

I don’t understand how conservatives can make such a big deal about social issues and then in the very next breath decry a nanny state. Isn’t government enforcement of morality the very definition of a nanny state?

And if the majority religion were different, would it be OK then? What if Congress votes to mandate hijab-wearing? Or to require that every food item throughout America be kosher? Or to outlaw medicine in favor of prayer? What makes those beliefs better or worse than others? Why should any of them be made law?

There’s a variety of reasons I made this shift. The sheer number of people in American prisons is one reason; we have so many more people in jail than any other country that if there were a benefit, it should be obvious. There’s the fact that a lot of conservative fear of change is that laws will persecute them somehow. But we don’t have to keep same-sex marriage illegal to protect churches from hate crime charges if we also don’t keep hate crime laws, do we? Do we not remember that America was founded in part by people practicing illegal religions? On a personal religious angle, there’s Revelations 22:11 and Romans 2:1 (especially in the context of the previous chapter).

I mostly agree with Dracoi. I used to think drug laws were a good thing; now I think they do much more harm than good. Not only used an excuse to put people in jail, but they inhibit doctors from treating pain effectively.

But some laws are needed. Drunk and other impaired driving (including cell phones and, especially texting) must be banned. As he suggests, excessive “sin taxes” also encourage criminal activities. I used to think that gay marriage was absurd. Now that I understand all the ways that laws privilege marriage, I strongly support it. But maybe laws should not support marriage at all. A person’s a person for all that and it is not obvious why marriage ought to confer special privileges.

I’ve also changed my mind on labor unions. Yes, they were sometimes criminal enterprises and, in Philadelphia in 1960 it was the construction unions who fought fiercely to keep blacks out of the building trades. Still, now that I see how desparate the situation of workers can be without unions, I have changed my mind.

I have always been pro-choice and will never change that opinion.


A few years ago I changed my mind about affirmative action. I used to think completely ignoring demographic status was the only proper way; now I think history has imposed an enormous burden preferentially on some people, and we should be trying to balance that. I now think a generation or so of halfhearted effort is no reason to declare that the playing field is level, after centuries of genocidal brutality by law.

My wife has, over the years, moved from being a mild lefty (by Canadian standards, which are pretty far to the left of US standards) to being more or less a Tea Party sympathizer, with some exceptions, which are probably due to to her Canadian upbringing (I’m American, and we live in the US).

It’s been an interesting insight into the Tea Party mindset. My wife is angry and disappointed about career setbacks she and so many others suffered in the financial crisis of 2008/2009, and that’s when the change began. Seems to me that this brand of conservatism has its roots in anger, not in any well-thought-out political philosophy.

Drug laws and affirmative action, as already mentioned. I used to be in favor of the former and against the latter, now that’s reversed.

Mostly because I think drug addiction should be treated as a medical issue, and that most of the personal and social ills of drug use come from their being illegal. I’ve come to understand that I actually know lots and lots of people who are casual, responsible drug users, and the only thing wrong with their drug use is that it’s illegal. But it’s not hurting anyone. Those in the minority who lie, cheat, steal, starve, etc. in the pursuit of their drug habit a) may not need to do those things if their drug of choice were available at Walgreens and b) need medical help that they can seek without worrying they’ll be sent to jail or have their kids taken away.

Affirmative action, because I’ve come to understand that I was wrong about racism. I was raised thinking that outright racism was a thing of the past, and that modern racism was limited to jokes and stereotypes. I believed that everyone should therefore be treated in a race blind fashion. I was wrong. Racism - real, ugly, life limiting racism - is still pervasive, from the moment a child is born to the pediatrician in their neighborhood to the school they can go to to their chances of being expelled or arrested as an adolescent. It’s truly unfair to expect someone raised under those circumstances to have the knowledge and skills of a child raised in privilege, and AA programs help to offset that, a little bit. I’d RATHER we fix the medical care and schools and legal system, but that’s going to take a lot of time and work, and we can’t ditch AA until those things are fixed.

I’m not sure if these are “political” issues, but: vaccination and GMOs. I used to be antivaxx, now I’m not, because I learned more. I used to be GMO agnostic, because I knew I didn’t know enough to feel confident they were safe, and I knew just enough science to be concerned, primarily with unexpected allergens in foods (like, what if you have a fish allergy and eat a tomato with fish genes in it?). I now know that those fears are groundless (the fish DNA isn’t the part of fish that people with fish allergies are allergic to) and that GMO foods are a great way to do what “organic, sustainable” advocates want: grow more crops on less land with fewer pesticides and less water. I’m no longer even in favor of labeling GMOs, because I think too many people will then avoid them out of ignorance, and the market for them will collapse and we’ll see even more starving blind kids in third world countries.

I used to think basic minimum income was a crazy idea. Why does society owe its citizens a paycheck? Doesn’t that create a disincentive against working? Blahblahblah…

As I’ve gotten older, I dropped my high-minded notions about morality. We can wish and hope for people to be always be angels, but the truth of the matter is that they will always fall short. Society sucks when we continually beat people over the head with ideals rather than coming up with practical ideas for problems.

For instance, why do women get abortions? Well, children are expensive, especially when they are unplanned. Pregnancy and child-rearing can also really fuck up a fledging career. So maybe if everyone received a basic minimum income, fewer people would choose abortions. The native-born fertility rate might actually go up.

Why do mental illnesses go unchecked? Because people who have mental illness have to eat and pay rent like everyone else. They can’t afford to take a time-out and check themselves in the hospital to get themselves stabilized. Many of them can’t even afford to take off a couple of hours every week to see a therapist. So they work and work and work, and meanwhile their illness gets worse and worse and worse. And then one day they flip out and everyone starts pointing fingers at the medical establishment. When really it is society’s fault for not making it easier for people to temporarily bow out of the workforce and get help.

In a few years, Boomers will start needing assistance with personal care. Many of their adult children will have to choose between dropping out of the workforce or putting their parents in a no-frills (read, crappy) nursing home. Basic minimum income would help so much with this decision. It would also enable parents to do “stay-at-home” parenting–thus totally enabling all the “family values” that conservatives talk about.

I don’t care if basic minimum income turns us all into lazy slackers. Maybe we work too hard anyway.

I’ve lost a few arguments on this here message board and had to change my mind.

A big one was abandoning the idea of hard money.

I was a Republican from 1965 to 1999. I worked for the Conservative Party in New York, subscribed to National Review, voted for Nixon in 1972 and was proud of it, etc., etc. I was a bit disturbed by the religion, bit it was not a big deal back then.
Then they nominated George W. Bush, who I could tell was a lightweight. It activated all my hidden doubts. The Republican position then - which has gotten more extreme since, was a turn-off. And the total mess he and his friends made of the world and the country validated my position.

Yeah, the nomination, and worse, *re-nomination *of George W. Bush convinced me that the GOP base and conservative movement really didn’t know what they were doing. It’s also fun to see apparently smart persons sneer at “rule of law,” “fiscal responsibility,” and various international accords. :confused:

Lots of Democrats are no better, honestly; but I thought conservatives should have been better on that stuff, instead of completely indifferent or hostile.

Heck, I’m starting to think that working is overrated. Working for a paycheck, I mean. Working to survive. Maybe if things can be automated, causing the loss of jobs, we should do that, and let people get on with creating art and having families and hanging out and enjoying life. Why must doing unpleasant things that you have to be bribed into doing be the measure of one’s worth?

To a certain extent, it can be said that I’ve made a full circle in terms of politics. When I first became vaguely politically aware as a third grader during the 2004 Presidential elections, I initially identified myself as a Democrat mostly because I identified them with FDR and John F. Kennedy. However, gradually due to listening to a lot of conservative talk radio my dad played in the car, I moved in a right-wing direction becoming extremely socially conservative (anti-abortion, pro-death penalty, pro-drug wars) and hawkish. At the same time, throughout most of my middle school years (partially due to simple ignorance), I retained a more populist stance on economic issues, not seeing what the problem was with a reasonably generous welfare state as well as being protectionist. By the early years of my high school, however, reading and examining slightly more “sophisticated” conservative material moved me in an economically more neoliberal direction making me enthusiastically embrace “balanced budgets”, entitlement “reform”, and free trade while I somewhat moderated my stance on social issues including beginning to support pot legalization. Thus I essentially solidified my position as an “Establishment Republican”/“reasonable conservative”, culminating in my enthusiastic support for the candidacy of Governor Huntsman. However, Romney’s subsequent disastrous campaign as well as reading up on the Affordable Care Act ended up making me support Obama in the 2012 Presidential race. Initially, however, my views did not change much and I still considered myself a Republican albeit one briefly in exile due to Tea Party dominance. Thus for some time I was a Rockefeller Republican/DLC Democrat largely retaining my neoliberal economic views although favourable to a basic welfare state. However, reading Krugman and Lind as well as associating myself with largely left-wing forums gradually shifted my views in a more orthodox New Deal liberal/social democratic direction to which I eventually reconciled myself with. Since that shift about two years ago, my views except for occasional shifts (such as supporting SSM and becoming more favourable to protectionism) have been fairly consistent. Nonetheless, I have undergone noticeable shifts in emphasis and focus as I’ve largely rejected elitism, over-intellectualism, and moralism in politics in favour of pragmatism, populism, and interest-based politics with a healthy appreciation for nationalism, demagougery, and the achievements of such men as Huey Long and Juan Peron.

My current political views are at least in my view, a more consistent expression of my various earlier incarnations at politics all of which was a philosophy aimed at the greater good of the Republic and humanity as a whole with a strong focus on the national interest. Essentially, I believe future good of humanity is tied up with Western Civilization and its great achievements of moral universalism, liberal democracy, and high culture which in turn depends upon its great champion, the American Republic. This in addition to the fact of my being American means that I’m strongly concerned for the welfare of the American Republic. However my nationalism does not extend merely to the State or the abstract American nation, but to the American people which compose the nation. As a result I strongly believe in a socioeconomic system designed to suit the interests and prosperity of the American volksgemeinschaft which entails a strong system of regulations to ensure the economy functions smoothly with minimal occurrence of recessions and depressions, business-labour-government corporatism so that the interests of all three can be met in an amicable way, an extensive system of social welfare to ensure people have access to basic goods and services and ultimately meet a minimal standard of living, and heavy spending on infrastructure, education, and research to guarantee an advanced economy and the preeminence of American business. On cultural issues, I’m mostly libertarian though more for practical reasons since I believe State prohibitions on drugs, pornography, and so forth are generally unworkable rather than on principle, since I ultimately strongly believe in communitarian principles which considers an individual not as some sort of theoretical autonomous entity but an individual whose human needs ultimately drive him to be part of community/society which includes the State, family, business, church, and private clubs. Thus I strongly support promotion of high culture through public funding for non-degenerate art and media, and inculcating a national identity through education and English as the official the language as well as being strongly opposed to legalized human abortion. In foreign policy, I support whatever promotes human rights and liberal democracy (as well as obviously the national interest) which entails maintaining a strong military and cooperation with (usually likeminded) states to establish world hegemony with America acting as supreme policeman in this order. With regards to issues of “social justice”, I believe that equality of opportunity should be the ultimate outcome which entails maintaining a strong welfare state to ensure everyone meets certain opportunities and colour/sex-blind policies with regards to things like affirmative action. As for environmental issues, I have an anthropocentric environmentalists who believes that the environment should be preserved and global warming combated for the interests of humanity rather than due to any inherent value within the Earth itself.

I essentially did a 180 from my early adult years. Being raised in an extremely conservative evangelical home and school environment, I voted Republican. Pro-life, anti-union, hawkish, the whole nine yards.

Oddly enough, what changed me was introspection. As I came to know myself better, I came to resent my church for not using my talents (I’d have been great behind the scenes, doing financial or legal work), and wanting me to do the extroverted “community service” stuff that they espoused. I had a severe crisis of faith, threw out what I knew and started my Christianity from scratch. I still considered myself a Christian, and decided my best starting place would be from reading the things ascribed to Jesus. Not the Old Testament, not interpretations by Paul. Just Jesus’s words. And he came across pretty straight-forward and simple. I boiled it down to three basic ideas by which I’d try to live.

Love other people.

Do not harm other people.

Focus on my imperfections, not others’.

After that, I began pretty much reversing my stances on virtually everything I’d been taught was correct. Pro-choice, pro-ecology, pacifist, etc. I hold my nose and vote Democrat (usually), but consider myself farther to the left, and consider myself an independent voter.