Polls and musings

by on July 20, 2008  •  In Elections, Marriage

Almost simultaneously with the new Field poll showing Californians rejecting a state constitutional amendment to bar same-sex marriage, the Quinnipiac Polling Institute released a new national poll  on attitudes toward same-sex marriage. Not surprisingly, the results were less supportive of equal marriage rights overall, although with a few interesting specifics.

 Quinnipiac asked a series of questions about abstract propositions. The results tracked the spectrum of support that has become expected:

36% say they support s/s marriage

44% say states should recognize s/s marriages from other states

49% would oppose a law in their states banning s/s marriage

56% oppose amending the US Constitution to ban s/s marriage

… in other words, a resounding majority for the status quo (although far more than 49% of Americans live in states that have already banned s/s marriage).

When given the choice of supporting marriage, civil unions or no recognition, 33% support civil unions; 32% marriage, and 29% no recognition.  In other words, almost two-thirds of Americans support some formal legal status that recognizes same-sex couples. A different report from Pew Research Center, http://pewresearch.org/pubs/868/gay-marriage, maps the change over the last five years, from 30% support for marriage to 38%. In that poll, 51% favor making either marriage or civil unions open to s/s couples.

The most striking similarity between the Field and Quinnipiac results is the mirror image that emerges from political party comparisons. In Californa, 63% of Democrats plan to vote to retain the right of s/s couples to marry, and 68% of Republicans plan to vote against it. Nationally, 62% of Democrats oppose a law in their state to ban s/s marriage, and 64% of Republicans support such a law.

So what does all of this mean? And why do I find it so interesting? Perhaps the fact that attitudes change slowly and largely in mysterious ways makes any plausible measurement all the more significant. Opinion polls have become the metric of social change. They empiricize the change process, and, by so doing, also probably facilitate it. Of course, polls can seldom illuminate the deeper reasons why change is occurring. Progressives routinely opine (and I think many conservatives grudgingly agree) that anti-gay attitudes will simply die off, as older generations are replaced by younger people for whom gay, schmay is no big deal. But why, exactly, is sexual orientation so much less stigmatized for younger adults?  Surely Will and Grace can’t explain everything…


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