The change averaged slightly less than 1 percentage point per year. It doesn't seem like much, but the change did accumulate with each successive year. As each new generation matures, it tends to be less racist than the previous generation. Meanwhile, older adults tend to retain their beliefs about race from ther earlier years of their life. This establishes a maximum rate at which change is possible.
The same response appears to be occurring with same-sex marriage and homophobia:
In late 2008, Jay McDonough published a fascinating graph on his "swimming freestyle" weblog titled: "Gay marriage will be legal by 2012." The graph is too tiny to read clearly. It shows the decline in opposition to SSM (in red), the rise in support for SSM (in blue) and the stagnation of the the number of "don't knows, from 1986 to 2006. The vertical axis runs from 0 to 100%. The horizontal line half-way up the graph is the 50% support level. The trend appears obvious. 3
Of course, same-sex marriage did not become legal in 2012. Earlier trends did continue with a noticable surge in support for SSM from 2010 to 2012. A majority of American favored SSM by that year. However, it takes more than a slim majority to implement change. Fear-based anti-SSM ads can significantly alter public support. It really takes about a 10 percentage point margin to pass a referendum on SSM.
Gallup Organization's polls on same-sex marriage 1997 to 2000:
When pollsters substitute the word "marriage" for "civil unions," results shift towards increased opposition. When the Gallup Organization asked the question: "Do you think marriages between homosexuals should or should not be recognized by the law as valid, with the same rights as traditional marriages?" the following data were obtained: 4
Pew Forum: Detailed data on same-sex marriage from 1996 to 2003:
The Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life also polls the American public on this matter. Survey results over the period 1996 to 2003 show a major shift away from the prohibition of same-sex marriage:
Comparing those who favor SSM with those who are opposed:
Major opposition comes from Evangelical Christians (83% either oppose or strongly oppose in 2003) and African-Americans (64%). Nearly every segment of society has shifted towards favoring allowing gays and lesbians to marry. However, neither Evangelical Christians nor African-Americans have significantly changed their beliefs between 1996 and 2003. The percentage of adults who oppose or strongly oppose same-sex marriage has reduced by:
As of 2003, a majority of those mainline Christians, Roman Catholics and secularists who have an opinion on the topic favor same-sex marriage. They reported that: "Perhaps not surprisingly, people who have a gay friend, family member, or co-worker are more than twice as likely to favor gay marriage (55%) as those who do not (24%)." 3 These data show how individual gays and lesbians coming out of the closet can affect the public's opinion. It is much easier for a person to be opposed to equal rights for gays and lesbians if they perceive lesbians and gays as a nameless, faceless mob with an evil intent towards the culture. It is much more difficult to be opposed to marriage equality if they personally know a gay friend, co-worker, or relative.
Pew Forum: Summary of data on same-sex marriage from 1996 to 2012:
The poll in 2004-FEB showed a sudden reversal in the trend towards increasing support for SSM. This poll was taken during a short period when hundreds of couples married in San Francisco. The couples were later forcibly divorced against their will by the courts.
The 2006 poll involved 1,405 randomly selected adults from across the U.S. The margin of error is approximately ±3.2 percentage points. Other polls are probably similar.
The 2008 poll showed that "... overwhelming majorities of Republicans (75%) and white evangelical Protestants (81%) oppose allowing gays to marry, and about half in each group strongly opposes gay marriage (48% of Republicans, 54% of white evangelicals). Opinions about gay marriage in both of these groups are virtually unchanged from July 2004. 5
The 2012 poll found that that 65% of Democrats favored SSM while 29% were opposed. Independents were 51% in favor and 40% opposed. Republicans were 24% in favor and 70% opposed.
The gap between Democrats and Republicans was 23 percentage points in 2004; 31% in 2008 and 41% in 2012. The country is becoming more polarized about marriage equality.
The latest major poll was conducted by Fox News/Opinion Dynamics over five days starting on 2010-AUG-06. It was the first major poll to show that most American adults support SSM.
The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.
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