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Public Support for Gay Marriage

- May 22, 2008


In this Pollster blogpost, Charles Franklin presents a wealth of data on public opinion about gay marriage, apropos of the recent ruling by the California Supreme Court. One interesting question is whether the California court’s decision will have the same effect that the Massachusetts court’s decision had. Franklin writes:

bq. During the year from November 2003 to November 2004, opposition to same-sex marriage rose by five points, from 55% to just over 60%. Meanwhile support fell by about eight points, from 38% to 30%, then rebounded by a point or so by election day. (These shifts slightly predate the Massachusetts decision, probably reflecting the increased visibility of the issue prior to the Court’s ruling.)…

bq. …The California ruling, and the likely campaign over a proposition there to modify the state constitution this fall, will test whether increasing the salience of the issue will result in a replay of the 2003-04 dynamics, with opponents stimulated and supporters in retreat, or if the 2006 experience means that the issue is no longer the motivator it was in 2004. The 2003-04 data clearly show the potential for sharp changes when the marriage issue becomes extremely salient. That the fight will take place in the most populous state in the Union also guarantees national exposure. However, the fact that most states have already settled this issue through law or amendment, and that only three states (so far) are on track to have proposals on the ballot, means that the issue is more localized than it was in 2004.

See also his discussion of polling that includes a “civil unions” option:

bq. When the “civil unions” option is added, opposition to gay rights drops significantly from about 55% to 40%. Likewise, support for gay marriage drops from 40% to 29%. The “comfortable” middle ground is then some 26% who are willing to support civil unions so long as they fall short of “marriage.”

bq. This “half a loaf” approach is acceptable to only some in the gay rights community, but it is precisely the politically acceptable position that Democratic politicians think can move them from the losing side of public opinion to the winning side.

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