Tyler Cowen predicts a future backlash on both fronts:
On issues such as drug legalization and gay rights, I see a more cyclic than melioristic pattern. We will see marginal improvements but we won't enter a new age of reason, in either the public sector or the private sector. The Netherlands is backing away from its very liberal social policies, including on drugs, and the cause of gay rights could as easily fall back as progress. I believe that many people are broadly programmed to be prejudiced in this area.
But the polling on both issues in America do not seem to be cyclical to me. The polling on marriage equality has been going up (with a couple of bumps) since it arrived on the national discourse. Here's the now-famous phallic graph of public opinion on marriage equality from the beginnings of its emergence as a public issue:
I see nothing cyclical there - just tumescent. And here is Gallup on the other question
Do you think the use of marijuana should be legal or not?
Now I do see a small backlash from 1978 - 1986 in the Reagan era.
But a forty year reduction in support for prohibition from 84 percent in 1970 to 54 percent in 2009 and an increase in support from 12 percent to 44 percent overwhelms any of the bumps along the way. Moreover, on both issues, support is much higher among the young than the old, suggesting to me that, unless legalization of marriage equality and marijuana lead to the social disintegration the social right claims, these trends will continue and even accelerate. I do think it will be vital to enforce legal marijuana laws effectively, and to make strenuous efforts to keep it away from the under-18s, as Prop 19 pledges.
The latest Field poll on Prop 19, by the way, shows a 49 - 42 percent majority in favor of legalizing a drug less toxic and anti-social than alcohol. The Public Policy Polling one before that showed 47 percent in favor and 38 percent against. But any initiative polling below 50 percent is vulnerable, and the most striking thing about all the polls is the sharp increase in undecideds since the spring.
In April only 3 percent weren't sure what they thought; now that number is 15 percent, suggesting that opponents have had some success in sowing doubts about the impact of the change. Men back legalization much more than women; and the generation gap - surprise! - is huge: 74 percent of those under 34 are for it, compared with only 39 percent of the over-65s. African-Americans are the strongest supporters (but not that far ahead of whites); and the biggest backers by party are Independents (followed closely by Democrats). The Republicans, as on marriage equality, are the outliers.