Americans more than ever are concerned about animal welfare, but it’s hard to suss how much Hillary cares about it
Hillary Clinton’s campaign has wisely caught on to an evolving voter dynamic by crafting a position paper outlining her support for protecting animals. But is she for animal rights or for animal welfare?
In addition to being good policy, courting the animal protection vote is good politics. Americans’ concerns about humane treatment of animals is stronger than ever before.
If this trend continues – and there is no reason to expect that it will not – the issue will likely play an even larger role in future elections.
Evidence of society’s rapidly evolving focus on animal protection abounds. In March,SeaWorld announced that it will stop breeding orcas and will phase out its orca shows, which are its signature attraction. Last month Ringling Brothers put on what it called its last elephant show ever. Last year McDonald’s joined Burger King, General Mills, Sara Lee and several other corporations that have announced they will only use cage-free eggs in their food products. In 2014 South Dakota became the 50th state to upgrade animal cruelty to a potential felony. Only 20 years earlier, all but a few stateshad only misdemeanor penalties for animal cruelty.
A 2015 Gallup poll addressing animal rights may be even more compelling. According to the poll, almost one in three Americans – 32 percent – now believe that “animals deserve the exact same rights as humans to be free from harm and exploitation.” In an identical poll Gallup conducted in 2008 only 25 percent of respondents expressed this view.
Clinton’s position paper does not go this far. It provides a vaguely worded list of mainstream animal welfare concerns such as “strengthening regulation of ‘puppy mills’” and “encouraging farms to raise animals humanely.”
The most interesting aspect of Clinton’s position paper is its description of the candidate as having “a strong record of standing up for animal rights.” “Animal rights” is a loaded term, and even animal rights supporters cannot agree as to what it means. Some animal rights advocates interpret the term loosely, and view animals as already having some rights because laws exist to protect them.
But other animal rights supporters assert that animals presently do not have rights, because our legal system views animals as property and does not allow them to be represented in judicial proceedings. Highly publicized lawsuits are underway in New York seeking to change this for chimpanzees by demanding that they be considered “legal persons” for purposes of protecting their “bodily liberty” and their “bodily integrity.”