Prognosis for marriage ballot measures: even split?

by on October 30, 2012  •  In Elections, Marriage, Social science

Hunter Of Justice

A new analysis of 98 public opinion polls on gay marriage since 2004 shows a nation-wide increase in support from 30 to 46 per cent.  Like presidential polls, though, the most interesting numbers come from battleground states, of which there are four this year: Maine, Maryland, Minnesota and Washington. The analysis – by Professor Greg Lewis and Lanae Erickson Hatalsky of Third Way – projects the level of popular support for same-sex marriage as of 2011 and also calculates an average annual rate of increase for each state. 

If the new projections are right, gay marriage advocates in Washington state should win their ballot referendum handily. A win also appears likely in Maine. Maryland and Minnesota, however, are – like the Big One – too close to call. 

Washington  – Popular support for gay marriage here is the seventh highest in the nation, with the 2011 estimate at 54.7% and an average annual increase rate of 2.9%, suggesting that advocates could win with around 58%, a pretty extraordinary jump from the 48% of Californians who voted for marriage equality in the Prop 8 contest just four years ago. Ironically, the Lewis-Hatalsky analysis for California produces a forecast that is essentially identical to that for Washington – - which means that reversing Prop 8 at the polls coulda, woulda, shoulda happen.

Maine – In 2009, Mainers repealed a gay marriage law passed by the state legislature, with a 47% minority who would have kept it. The new analysis projects a jump in support to 52.3% as of 2011 and a 2% average annual increase rate. If those numbers hold up, that should make for a comfortable margin, and possibly up to a 7% increase in voter support in just three years. That kind of margin would be a concrete illustration of the speed of opinion change on gay marriage.

Maryland – Maryland is definitely, as they say, in play. The Lewis-Hatalsky model rates popular support for gay marriage at 48.3% in 2011, with a 2.3% rate of average annual increase, which translates into…maybe. If there is a win for gay marriage by a more comfortable (which is to say, virtually any) margin, then, again, this would mark how support is building. Maryland is especially worth following because of the importance of the African-American vote; the issue’s presence on the ballot has triggered a major internal debate within that community.

Minnesota – Oh so close… The projection is that gay marriage had 47.2% support in 2011, with a 2.7% average annual rate of increase. Together those numbers add up to 49.9%. But – the Minnesota ballot question is not about allowing gay marriage; it concerns adding a state constitutional provision banning it to the state statutory ban that already exists. So a voter could, at least theoretically, be dubious about the value of gay marriage, but also opposed to tinkering with the state constitution. Wild card.

Overall - According to the new study, support for same-sex marriage as of 2011 fell below 50% in 35 states. Of those 35, support was under 40% in 21, and somewhere between 40% and 50% in 14. The states where support tops 50% but which don’t already have gay marriage – in addition to California, Washington, and Maine – are (in descending order of support level ) Rhode Island, New Jersey, Alaska, Colorado and Oregon. Just behind those five are Nevada and Hawaii. Caveat: some of those 50% plus states have governors willing to veto marriage equality legislation (New Jersey Governor Christie already has) and state constitutional provisions banning gay marriage that legislatures cannot override.

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