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Polling on Same-Sex Marriage proves Obama is safe, and the trend toward equality can’t be stopped


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On May 9th, 2012, Barack Obama announced in an interview that he endorsed the right of same-sex couples to gain full and equal marriage; and with that a political earthquake shook the very foundation we stood in.   The reaction was mixed, diverse, and exciting.  Many Democrats jumped in the bandwagon, Republicans awkwardly tried to stick to the economic message they have been on lately, pollsters rushed into the field to analyze the affect, and TV commentators had free reign to give their thoughts and opinions on the effect of the announcement on the President’s electoral standing as a result.  Focus came down heavily on if the announcement would hurt the President in key states.  Commentators rushed to talk about “all these states where its not popular, and ALL these states that have banned the practice.  Surely the President is doomed!   Ohio doesn’t like it, they won’t vote for him, he’s doomed!!”   And thus the mindless sputtering began, where anyone with a camera in front of their face got to become a polling expert for a day.  Where every newspaper got to go interview 5 people on it, and call it a representation of millions of people.  “What’s that, some black preacher in Maryland won’t vote for Obama now?  Well clearly this means he’s lost 100% of the black vote.”   Anyone else see how stupid that sounds?  Well to watch cable TV, you would get that impression.  It was truly a stunning spectacle to watch.  But never fear my data and FACT driven followers, I will break down all the numbers, and show that Obama is quite safe on this issue.    The trends are moving in the right direction, key swing states are moving toward equality, and with the economy being the top issue, Obama is 100% safe on this matter.

State of the Union

 There is alot of ‘concern’ among many that Obama is in trouble on this issue, that he is taking a risk that could harm him when all is said and done.  They site things like all the states with ban’s on their books already, the popular myth that Bush won 2004 on gay marriage, and the fact that several swing states in the rust belt still aren’t singing hymns for gay marriage.  But there speculation and concern falls upon my deaf ears for many reasons.  Lets begin with the basics… some national polling recently.

First, lets take a look at our standard national polls… first gallup

Gallup shows a continues move toward equal marriage.  The good side peaked at 53, and has fallen a bit, but the 3 point diff from the last poll can be seen as a statistical question… after all.. these polls have margins of error.  Its fair to say though, that under these numbers, equality is over 50%, if not right on it.

Then, we look at Pew Research, which also shows marriage support over marriage opposition, granted below 50%

Both of these charts show the same thing, a dramatic shift in attitudes over the last decade, or decade in a half.  But we’ve seen these charts before… lets look at other numbers..

These numbers on marriage correspond with trends that show American’s view same-sex relations more and more as ‘morally acceptable’  This is one of the reasons that religion has become less of the divider on this than what age is now.

This gallup poll compliments the Pew Poll that breaks down marriage support by religious affiliation.

What we see here is key trends if you look closely.  Religiously unaffiliated voters are of course the most strongly support of same-sex marriage.  In addition, Jewish individuals support equality up to 60% (not reflected in the chart).  But look at white mainline protestants and catholics.  There as been a steady move up for them since 2001.   Catholics seem to have dipped in support, but that may be a polling outlier (see how mainline’s dipped in 2009, but then quickly jumped back up).  Catholics are still strong at 46%, and mainline protestants are over 50%.  The mainlines are your Lutherans, Methodists, northern Babtists, Presbyterians, and other protestant groups that don’t identify as part of the evangelical movement.  These groups make up significant share of the religious community.

Even black protestants are moving upward in support.

The only group to not move at all are white evangelicals.  These are your holdouts, but they are NOT a representation of the entire religious community.  Every other group is moving up in support.

So religion is becoming less of an issue (unless your a evangelical) as time goes on,  the bigger divider is age, what generation you fall under.  Again, thanks to Pew for its handy graphic ready to go.

This chart shows its the millennials and Gen-X that back equality, while the baby boomers and silent’s still lag behind.  The top generations kept moving up this year, while the boomers and silents stagnated in place.   Age, not religion, is quickly becoming a bigger divider than religion on this matter.

Finally, lets look at race, although we will only do so quickly, because it will be covered later.  The polling shows that while, yes, African-Americans are less supportive of gay marriage than whites, it still shows movement.

So we see movement in the right direction here.  We have gone from 2004 support of 20% to 2012 support of 39%, that a 19 point jump.   In addition, we don’t have nationwide hispanic numbers, but state-based numebrs show good news as well.  Each state is different, but one example, in Colorado, hispanics along with white’s support same-sex marriage.  However, one issue is the diversity and different backgrounds of the overall hispanic community.  I’d love to see a detailed national breakdown of hispanics on same-sex marriage, broken down by each nationality that has significant numbers.

Obama’s Polling Position

Several pollsters came out with analysis on Obama’s remarks, most saying similar things.  I’m going to stick to Gallup and Pew Research since they are reliable.

Lets start with Gallup

  • 60% said decision had no effect
  • 71% of Democrats approved
  • 53% of Indi’s approved

Now, there was a question asked about people being “more or less likely” to back Obama based on this decision.  The numbers showed that overall, more where ‘less likely’ than ‘likely’ to back Obama over this.  But i am not breaking these down because they don’t matter. The whole ‘likely’ thing is a odd thing to ask in polls, because it tells you little.  Gallup didn’t ask if anyone had changed their vote based on this, they asked for a ‘likely’ to vote answer.  Well, if you are a conservative who was unlikely to vote for Obama anyway, you may answer ‘less likely’ — but its not like Obama actually was going to get the vote anyway.  Same thing for the ‘more likely’ voters, they where already in Obama’s camp anyway.  The ‘likely’ question may represent passion on the respective sides (more evangelicals than people who place LGBT rights as a high focus), but they don’t reflect shifts in voting.  Just so you know.

Now, we then had PEW do a poll as well, there numbers where a bit different because of different wording/questions.  Here is the breakdown, but they show even better results for the President.

  • 52% say it doesn’t change opinion of President
  • 26% say the like Obama less, 19% say like more (this still doesn’t indicate lost or gained votes)
  • Proof of the above, 53% of Republicans say they like Obama less for this, well what chance was he going to get a significant republican vote anyway?
  • Dems like Obama more, Indies are tied
  • 16% of blacks like Obama more, 13% less like, most don’t care 

The African-American piece really shows this issue will not erode Obama’s support in that community.  The African-American community is solidly Democratic, has backed pro-gay candidates before (Cuomo in NY comes to mind), and like all voters, they rank other issues like economy much more than gay marriage on their ‘top issue.’

Unbelievably, while these polls make me happy, because they show Obama is fine on this issue, the media is actually interpreting these numbers as BAD for the president.  Again, they over-think the ‘likely’ part from Gallup, and ‘favorability’ from Pew.  Rest assured, i know how to read polls, Obama is safe.

Want more reassurance?  Fair enough.  Remember how North Carolina voted 61% to ban gay marriage/civil unions? How only 35% of the state backs same-sex marriage?   Well a new poll from PPP has Obama up by ONE point, same margin he won by in 2008.  And that poll is AFTER the announcement.  See, no harm done.

The Myth of 2004

I’m only going to do a fast rundown of 2004.  This myth drives me, and anyone with a political science degree, nuts.  The numbers show that the myth that Bush won the election on gay marriage has no truth to it.  The most cited evidence is an exit poll that showed ‘moral value’s ranked highest on voters minds… at 22%, on election day.  But the truth is a little different.  Here are the quick bullet points on this.

  • 22% for moral values shows up when voters are asked to pick something, not asked an open-ended question (they had to chose from a list, not allowed to say something of top of head), plus — many voters can rank ‘moral’s as something different than gay issues (stem cells, abortion, help for poor, war and peace).  its an open ended question
  • iraq and terrorism totaled 34% when combined in the same-poll (they where separate choices, so split the vote)
  • Rasmussen polls showed top issue was terrorism, 42%
  • open-ended polls after election found Iraq as biggest issue at 25%, moral values down at 14%
  • Kerry did lose ‘moral value voters’ big time, but ALSO lost ‘terrorism’ voters by as big a margin
  • Bush did slightly better with voters of ALL religious devotion.  Gained big with those who never went to church (6 points), and gained equally (4 points) with those that went once a week or only rarely a month.
  • Religious voters became more Republican in registration, but Bush’s standing with them was largely unchanged from 2000 (no sudden surge)
  • States that Kerry won also banned gay marriage on ballot (Oregon, Michigan, Wisconsin)
  • Gallup before election saw voters considered gay marriage importance at BOTTOM of priorities, 14 out of 14 issues.

That’s the gist of 2004.  Oh, and of course, Kerry did great with African-Americans, like all Democrats.  Bush didn’t win on gay marriage.  If there was any surge of evangelicals that didn’t vote in 2000, it was smaller than thought, and was likely balanced by the surge in youth voters that backed Kerry.  Bush won the election on terrorism and foreign policy.  He won suburbanites by promising to keep the kids safe, not keeping the kids from going to a gay wedding.

The State of the States

While we have lots of nationwide polling data on this issue, state-wide data is getting better and better each month.  More and more polling is coming out on the matter, giving us a better glimpse into state support over the issue.  This data is also important for countering the argument that ‘oh but so many states have voted to ban same-sex marriage.’  People forget those voters where largely in 2004 and 2006, 8 to 6 years before now.  Considering the trend in favor of marriage, elections from that long ago are outdated.  Even 2008 results are outdated.  That cannot be stressed enough.

Lets start with a chart I created of all same-sex marriage polls in the states that have been polled.  Many states have no reliable polling, those states are grey.

So what do we see here!  We see ALOT of states in the blue now.   Light blue states have gay marriage polling above 45%, with the opposition below the support.   Many swing states, including Iowa and New Mexico fall under this category.  In addition, New Hampshire, Colorado, and Arizona, swing states, have support over 50%.  Montana and Virginia are actually above 40%.

This map reflects the most recent data.  Many of the states that are blue now (especially the lighter blue) where likely ‘red’ when ban votes took place in 2004.

Look at this same map, with icons for bans that have passed.  Every state with a green triangle voted to ban same-sex marriage at one point or another.

Look at where these bans where, states with no polling, or states that are still red now.  But these blue states with bans are currently registering support for same-sex marriage between 45% and 55%.  These are numbers that where lower when the vote bans took place. So saying “Colorado and Oregon” banned same-sex marriage doesn’t mean the current polling is wrong.  We are talking about bans from 6 to 8 years ago.  Even California was now almost 4 years ago.  Four years is a lifetime in politics with shifting public opinion.

Now, as you can see, many states have no data, and some of these polls are a little older than I’d like.  Well, a couple statistical dudes did a workup of where support for same-sex marriage might currently stand based on many factors, including overall trends in favor of same-sex marriage.  There data is here, http://themonkeycage.org/blog/2012/05/15/if-same-sex-marriage-is-so-popular-why-does-it-always-lose-at-the-ballot-box-includes-state-level-data-on-support-and-legislation/.

I took there data and graphed it as well to fill in the grey states.  I also used it to find updates on states with no recent polling.  However, I always deferred to recent polls (anytime this year) for this next map, so many states’s didn’t change.  I used a variety of their data, current polling, and intuition to come up with this map…

now quickly… lets see same map with icons for states that have bans

See, mot of the bans come from states that still aren’t big fans of same-sex marriage.  So there is ZERO contradiction in that regard.  States in blue that banned same-sex marriage before would likely not vote the same way today.

This chart also shows there are plenty of states where Obama is the mainstream view.   Its not a fringe position like it used to be, its much more accepted than ever before.  Now, what about the fact that Ohio/Wisconsin/Florida/Pennsylvania don’t back same-sex marriage?  Doesn’t that mean he’s doomed?   Again, no.  Those states are focusing on one thing… the economy.   The national polling, and i’m willing to bet state-wide polling when it comes out, will show that while those states don’t favor Obama on the measure, it won’t cost him any votes.

Remember, Obama is leading by 1 in North Carolina, even AFTER his announcement.  

So, we have this national map… but how about some state-based polls?    There are some states with consistent polling, so we can look at those to see how much the trend is moving toward marriage equality.  I’m just going to look at some key states with good and plentiful polling.


This fall, Maine will hold a referendum on legalizing same-sex marriage.  You may remember they voted to override a same-sex marriage law in 2009.  But the polls show a different story today.

Since 2011, same-sex marriage has gone from polling almost even to having a sizable lead 54% support.  This bodes well for the referendum in 2012 this year.  Keep this in mind, if the polling was almost tied in 2011, where was it in 2009 when the citizens veto happened?


Virginia is hot on Obama’s radar for 2012, so how have they been trending on same-sex marriage?  Pretty good actually.  Between December 2011 and May 2012, same-sex marriage support has jumped 6 points to 41%, and civil unions have jumped 10 points to 65%.

The pink line is for civil unions, and the red line is for same-sex marriage.  See, the trends are moving up.


This state is also on Obama’s radar, and there have been questions about the state’s support of same-sex marriage since its 2009 court case that legalized same-sex marriage.  In 2010, voters voted to not retain 3 of the supreme court judges who voted for this ruling.  However, considering the turnout issues for Democrats and the red year it was, it can’t be conclusively determined that was entirely over that ruling.  Regardless, whats the polling trend now?

Don’t let the bar angle throw you off, its a several point jump, but thats not on a 1 to 100 scale (its excel’s fault).  Nevertheless, a clear tend in favor of marriage.

New Hampshire

The state passed same-sex marriage in 2009, and despite Republican attempts to repeal it this year, the law finally seems safe and sound.  Polling in this blue-leaning swing state show a continuous trend more and more in favor of equality.  Between July 2011 and May 2012, the support for same-sex marriage went from 51% to 57%.

Pretty good trend is whats considered the most conservative of the New England states.


One of the key swing states of the southwest that Obama is also counting on to win re-election.  With a strong hispanic presence, some in the media speculate that might cause problems for Obama since many hispanics are catholic.   Well, guess what, polling doesn’t show that to be the case.  49% of Colorado hispanics support same-sex marriage, versus 43% who oppose it.  In addition, the polling trend is continuously good overall.  Since August 2011, support has jumped from 45% to 53%.  The chart below shows the support for same-sex marriage rising, and the opposition falling.

I think its safe to say Obama won’t be hurt at all in Colorado.

Other states

There are other states with less or out-dated polling that I didn’t make charts of, but I’ll run down some key bulletpoints.

  • Support in Montana has jumped 4 points to 41% since last polled
  • Washington has jumped 3 points to 49%
  • Florida hasn’t changed much from its 35% support, but opposition is falling a bit and undecideds grow
  • New Mexico has jumped 4 points to 46% between June and Dec 2011
  • California polls are slowly increasing, but all within margin of error
  • Pennsylvania/Wisconsin/Ohio/Michigan polls are all stagnant, and most are out of date
Overall, the limited polling shows trends upwards in key swing states, while others seem to be more stagnant.  The trend is up in several states, showing Obama will be well position in those areas.  Even in the states where support is still weak, there is no evidence that Obama will suffer in those states for his position.   The trends are a great sign for marriage equality advocates and for the President.  Several swing states are seeing the light, and embracing marriage equality.
Now,  we’ve looked at these different states, and seen that Obama is safe and sound for his positions.  So lets address one other issue, the notion that Obama could be in trouble with the black vote for his stance.  I’ve already addressed that a bit in the national polling area, but lets move a step further and look at some more detailed numbers.  How strongly does the black community feel about the issue?   Did the black vote cost equality advocates in North Carolina during the amendment one vote?   For this, lets look at what happened in North Carolina.  Who doomed equality in that state.
It’s the whites wot won it
I already did a major blog entry on the North Carolina amendment one election, and showed that the big reason it passed was because voters didn’t know it banned civil unions as well.  Look to that entry for that, but lets talk about the post-mortem on that election, its polling, and see who supported the bans and why.
The media’s focus has been largely on African-American opposition to past marriage/civil union bans.  However, they are missing key data points from North Carolina.   First off, the black vote did not doom the measure by any stretch of the imagination.   In fact, polling throughout the campaign showed that while African-American’s backed the measure by a large margin at the beginning, they actually came to oppose it during the last round of polling.  See this chart of the African-American stance throughout the Amendment One campaign to see.
Support for the ban (blue) actually fell below the red, despite being 70% in favor of the ban in October of 2011.  Education on the issue, and work by the NAACP against the ban helped bridge that gap very well.
Lets look at the white vote then, which represent most of the state’s population, how did the polling look for them?
Throughout the campaign, white’s where in favor of the ban, and that gap barely narrowed in the final weeks.   Considering its the white population that is the largest by a large margin, it can be said without debate that when it comes to who helped the bigotted side win, its the whites wot won it.
I’ll break this down even further, look at the map of the final results for the amendment, then below that, look at the black population percentages by county.

We see many states with significant black population voted for the ban, but we also see on the western side, largely white counties overwhelmingly backed the measure.

Look at this way.  I did a scatter-plot of the results, looking to see if there was a relationship between the black percentage of a county and its support for the ban.  In other words, did a higher black population lead to a higher vote to ban.   For example, lets look to Broward County in 2008.  Florida banned civil unions and gay marriage, and Broward County narrowly supported that ban.  I did a scatterplot of the precincts to see if a higher black vote led to a higher vote to ban.   This is a different scenario, and thus not a perfect comparison, but i want to show you this scatterplot.

The x-axis is black population percent, and the y-axis is the percent the ban got.  Look carefully, and you see that as the black population got larger, fewer and fewer precincts didn’t support the ban.  Byt the time you reached 50% black on the x-axis, most precincts where above 50% on the y-axis for supporting the ban.  This scatterplot shows there was a relationship.

Lets look at counties in North Carolina to see if we have the same-relationship.

Not as much of relationship.  Voters are all over the place, and while the few black counties over 50% all voted for the ban, you see lots of white counties up there as well.  A white scatterplot doesn’t look any more organized.  Really, there is no significant correlation between race and support for the bans.  There is only one issue that does have a clear correlation that we have data on…. education.

Education proved to be the one thing that demonstrated a relationship.  Counties with significant percentages having a bachelors degree where less likely to back the ban.  In fact, of the top 5 counties for bachelor’s degrees, none voted for the ban, and of the top 10 counties, only 3 narrowly did.

Look at this map of North Carolina by percent that has a bachelors degree or more

Look back to the vote on the ban, many of those higher educated counties voted against the ban, or narrowly voted to do so.   Now, look at a scatterplot of these results, the y-axis being the vote to ban, and the x-axis being the percent with a bachelors degree or higher.

Now THATs a clear correlation.  As the percent of bachelor’s degrees increased, support for the bans fell.  It really starts to begin around 25% or more having a bachelors degree.

These results show that the only clearly known correlation was education, and that white’s where just as supportive of the ban, maybe even more so of the polling was accurate, than the African-American community.

The National Organization of Marriage wants to try and divide the Democratic base by pushing the notion that African-American’s are tanking equality at the ballot.  However, North Carolina at least tells a different story.  While support for same-sex marriage is weak in the black community, that doesn’t mean they will always vote that way at the ballot box.   And contrary to to concerns that Obama would lose support from North Carolina African-American’s for his stance, he actually seems to be helping equality.  Since Obama’s announcement, support for gay rights has actually increased in the black community.  The chart below shows just black attitudes on the issue.

Here is what we have, the blue line is support for legal recongition of gay couples, the red line is opposition to any legal recognition.  The green line is support for gay marriage specifically.

What we have here is a poll taken right before the vote on the ballot measure, and a poll taken right after Obama’s announcement.  The Obama announcement caused support for legal unions to jump ELEVEN  points, and for same-sex marriage to jump SEVEN points.  Not only is Obama not hurting with the African-American community, he is helping shift their views on the subject.  Now, white and african-american’s are almost tied on giving gay couples legal status (57% support among whites, 55% among blacks).  And to prove its not this narrative of “blacks are more hostile to gays than whites,” — look to this statistic.  8% of white’s in the state what being gay to be a felony, only 5% of blacks feel the same way.

Again, this notion that you have a more hostile reaction from the African-American community is beginning to grow outdated.  Yes opposition to marriage is still there.  But, results at the ballot box or more complicated.   There is support for civil unions in African-American community, and as long as white’s are the largest racial group, they will continue to be responsible for losses as the ballot box.   In North Carolina, is was clearly whites that doomed equality on the ballot.

This is still work to be done to increase support within the African-American community for same-sex marriage, especially in the upcoming Maryland referendum.  But in North Carolina, African-Americans where not why we lost.  As I said, thanks to me ripping off an old headline from a UK magazine, its the whites wot won it (translation:  its white voters fault it passed).


Well, I’ve said just about all I can on this issue.  I’ve given you charts and numbers from polling firms, I’ve given you charts from my own creation.  And they tell one important story, that the trend is moving strong for equality, and that President Obama is safe and sound in taking this position on the matter.  Don’t let the media or anyone else tell you different.  Marriage equality will eventually be the law of the land, and for right now, its not hurting the President a single bit.

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