In 2011, PPP asked 11,995 registered voters their opinion on gay marriage on behalf of DailyKos and SEIU. With this many responses, we can answer some questions about where public opinion stood last year, where it might be going, and what the political implications of Obama's announcement yesterday may be—based on data.
Republicans and conservatives have really painted themselves into a corner on marriage equality, as they stand out as the demographic groups in this country that are far off from everybody else and NOT evolving much on this issue. That is, they seem less likely to change in the future—they're stuck being anti-equality—they've made their bed. Meanwhile, Obama's announcement has a limited ability to change people's minds on who to vote for in November (no, not even African-Americans), but may swing a few percent on whether to vote at all. And, there is some evidence that Obama's act of leadership may, well, lead the country towards more liberal positions.
We'll first look at where the country is a whole and how to read the charts I will present:
Join me below for more explanation.
Above, you see a dot in the center of a triangle that represents the opinions of respondents to the 2011 PPP/DailyKos/SEIU polls. To find out the percent that support gay marriage, follow the blue line up and to the left towards the left axis. To find out the percent who think there should be no legal recognition, go follow the red line down and to the left towards the bottom axis. For the middle positions, go straight right along a grey line to the right axis. This axis is labeled Civil Unions, but also includes those who chose Not Sure as a response, as numbers on this kind of chart must add up to 100 and Not Sure is a "mushy middle" response that fits far better with Civil Unions than pro-marriage or anti-everything.
So, the nation as a whole is split almost equally, one third pro-equality, one third anti-gay, one third for civil unions but not marriage. In the next charts, you will see some demographic groups closer to the ideal liberal position (100 percent gay marriage, in the lower left hand corner) and the ideal conservative position (100 percent no legal recognition, in the lower right hand corner).
Women Are Evolving Faster Than Men.
There's two components to the changes in views on gay marriage over time: individuals changing their minds, and older, less tolerant generations being replaced by younger, more inclusive voters. We can't predict how individuals will change their minds, but we can predict how generational change will play out. Below, we see an example for gender:
As you move from older generations (green) to younger (blue), we're moving towards the lower left corner (along the pink arrow). That is, there is some movement away from the No Legal Recognition position, but mainly movement from Civil Unions to Marriage. It is important to note that PPP does not call cell phones, and thus the opinions of 18-29 year olds represented here are actually somewhat more conservative than they should be.
This graph also shows that men (triangles) are to the upper right of women (circles) in the same age group. This is especially prominent among those older than 65, where there is almost a 10 point difference in support for No Legal Recognition.
Obama Just Lost Minority Voters! Panic!
Okay, so nobody has actually said "panic," but the tone of some recent articles about conservative minority voters has me a little peeved. And I'm not alone. First, let's look at views of gay marriage by race:
African-American and Hispanic 18-29 groups are not included because of lack of data. Anybody notice anything? Yeah, that's right: Latino voters are actually a lot more liberal than whites when it comes to gay marriage. And black voters, while a little more conservative, are damn close to whites. All three racial categories have trends towards tolerance with age. So let's lay off the stories implying mass defections of black voters based on two anecdotal interviews with conservative minority voters who say they won't for Obama, now, okay? Thanks.
Now, there is limited potential for people to change their intended votes based on this issue, but it is not huge, and we'll get to it later. Without hyperventilating.
Even Conseratives Aren't So Conservative.
Next up, opinion by ideology.
Here we see that apart from the oldest, liberals support gay marriage at rates of 65-75 percent. But among conservatives, support for No Legal Recognition tops out at around 55 percent. Even Conservatives aren't uniformly conservative on this issue. Meanwhile, moderates, as usual, look a hell of a lot more like liberals than conservatives. Liberals and moderates also have some fairly strong trends with age (pink arrows again); conservatives, only a weak trend.
Republicans Have Isolated Themselves
And they only have themselves to blame. Views by party:
Among Democrats and independents, a fairly consistent 25 percent support No Legal Recognition, with generational trends showing opinion changing from Civil Unions to Gay Marriage in both groups. Republicans, meanwhile, are over cowering on the right hand side, 50 percent hateful, watching in fear as the world changes around them, with only a small change with age. As this 50 percent dictates party orthodoxy, the GOP is stuck: They can't change their anti-equality stand, but they can't look like a modern political party that can appeal to the majority of independents either.
The Importance of Small Donors?
The last graph shows opinion by income group:
Again, we see a familiar pattern with age, but a new pattern with income: Moving from less to more income, No Legal Recognition decreases while Marriage increases. This has some potential implications for the future of small donor grassroots campaigning—those with $100,000 incomes are far more likely to be able to send out $100 checks.
Impact of Obama's Announcement
I think the general analysis out today is correct, that Obama's announcement won't change many votes. But I actually have some numbers to back that up.
Overall, in 2011, about 7 percent of registered voters would vote for Obama AND do not think gays should have any legal union. However, most of these are very excited supporters. Only about 1-2 percent are "not at all excited" and might be assumed to be ripe for defection. On the flip side, about 6 percent would not vote for Obama AND support gay marriage. And about 1-2 percent are "unexcitedly" not supporting Obama while supporting gay marriage, and potentially might switch to Obama now that he has declared himself. (Keep in mind these numbers are close to the level of error introduced from pranksters, incorrect answers, etc.) In other words, it doesn't look like there's too much potential for Obama's opinion on gay marriage to persuade voters one way or another, and the potential for losses looks about the same as the potential for gain. There's not enough data to separate out numbers by race, but a large number of those who support Obama but not civil unions are indeed minorities.
However, enthusiasm is a different issue. In yesterday's Daily Kos poll, about 10 percent of voters support No Legal Recognition, said they were voting for Romney, but said they were only somewhat excited or not at all excited about voting in November. Making gay marriage an issue may drive formerly unenthusiastic right-wing nutjobs to the polls who otherwise would have sat on their hands. I haven't done a rigorous analysis, but it seems like every anti-gay amendment always does better at the ballot box than polls suggest, showing either people lying to the pollster or turnout being driven to the right or both.
Now, in an email to somebody yesterday, I said I would be worried about this if I were Obama's campaign. But that was before Obama made his announcement. I was completely taken aback by how listening to Obama make one simple statement made me feel, how much it meant despite having no immediate practical effect. Call me a sucker, but apparently I'm not alone from what I've been reading. There is definitely a real motivating effect in support of Obama as well. And, guess what: The numbers balance out again. About 10 percent of voters in yesterday's poll support Gay Marriage, said they were voting for Obama, but said they were only somewhat excited or not at all excited. So there's no indication that the political effect of yesterday's announcement favors one side or the other in the November elections.
The President Leads
One last thing to watch: where public opinion goes now. In 2011, the Daily Kos polls showed 33 percent for No Legal Recognition, and 33 percent for Gay Marriage. In yesterday's poll, it was 28 percent for No Legal Recognition, and 37 percent for Gay Marriage. That is a statistically significant difference. But why? Well, something else was different in yesterday's poll too: Before respondents were asked their own opinion on gay marriage, they were asked what they thought Obama's opinion was. Did considering what Obama's opinion was significantly shift responses to a more liberal result? If so, will Obama's pro-marriage announcement shift opinion even more? We will see.
Update: Here's the full crosstabs as requested. Note that I believe actual support for marriage equality is about 5 points higher among the groups 18-29, Hispanic, and African-American. That, however, is a subject for one or more later diaries.