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Longitudinal U.S. public opinion polls
on same-sex marriage (SSM) & civil unions

Washington Post/ABC & FOX surveys, 2003-2012

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See a different essay for Gallup Organization and Pew Research poll data

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Washington Post/ABC polls from 2003 to 2012:

These typically survey the opinion of about 1,000 randomly selected American adults. The margin of error is thus about ±3.2 percentage points.

Date Favor SSM Oppose SSM No opinion/no response
2003-SEP 37 55 7
2004-MAR 41 55 4

Date Strongly favor SSM Favor SSM Oppose SSM Strongly Oppose SSM  No opinion/no response
2004-FEB 25 13 6 49 6
2004-MAR 24 14 11 48 3
2004-AUG 18 14 10 52  

Date Favor SSM Oppose SSM No opinion/no response
2005-AUG 39 58 3

Date Strongly favor SSM Favor SSM Oppose SSM Strongly Oppose SSM  No opinion/no response
2006-JUN 24 13 7 51 5
2009-APR** 31 18 7 39 5
2010-FEB 31 16 9 42 3

** This particular poll in 2009 made history. For the first time ever in a national poll, more American adults said that they support same-sex marriage (49%) than oppose it (46%). The same poll conducted in 2004-AUG showed just 32% in favor of SSM. In addition, 53% of American adults believe that their state should recognize same-sex marriages that have been legally solemnized in other political jurisdictions.

However, these data are to be taken with a grain of salt. Results are very much influenced by the specific question asked. Substituting the word "homosexual" -- often used as a snarl word among religious and social conservatives -- for "gay and lesbian" is sufficient to reduce stated support for SSM; using "gay marriage" in place of "same-sex marriage" has similar results. Data is also affected by any prior questions asked during the survey.

The Washington Post/ABC news poll of 2011-MAR found a majority (55%) of Americans in favor of SSM and showed 57% support for same-sex civil unions.

Pollster Gary Langster described this as a "milestone result that caps a dramatic, long-term shift in public attitudes". 4

Date Favor SSM Oppose SSM No opinion/no response
2011-MAR 53 44 3

The poll was taken by telephone between 2011-MAR-10 and 13. 1,005 subjects were polled. The margin of error is ±3.5 percentage points.

Their news release stated:

"From a low of 32 percent in a 2004 survey of registered voters, support for gay [sic] marriage has grown to 53 percent today. Forty-four percent are opposed, down 18 points from that 2004 survey.

The issue remains divisive; as many adults 'strongly' oppose gay marriage as strongly support it, and opposition rises to more than 2-1 among Republicans and conservatives and 3-1 among evangelical white Protestants, a core conservative group. But opposition to gay marriage has weakened in these groups from its levels a few years ago, and support has grown sharply among others -- notably, among Catholics, political moderates, people in their 30s and 40s, and men." 4

The Washington Post published the following chart showing the rise in support for SSM over the interval 2003 to 2011:

Washington Post graph2

This is the first poll to show a sizeable, statistically significant margin in favor of SSM. It is also the first time that a Washington Post/ABC News poll has shown that a majority of American adults support the legalization of SSM. 2

Evan Wolfson, president of Freedom to Marry -- a leading pro-marriage equality group -- said:

"This is very consistent with a lot of other polling data we’ve seen and the general momentum we’ve seen over the past year and a half. As people have come to understand this is about loving, committed families dealing, like everyone, with tough times, they understand how unfair it is to treat them differently."

Brian Brown, president of the National Organization for Marriage -- the main national group opposing marriage equality for all couples -- felt that the question asked during the survey biased the result. Subjects were asked: "Do you think it should be legal or illegal for gay and lesbian couples to get married?" Brown believes that the term "illegal" implies that those same-sex couples attempting to be married could be imprisoned -- a fate that most Americans would consider harsh. He noted that there had been 31 instances where voters in various states had been presented with a plebiscite, voter initiative, proposition or state constitutional amendment dealing with same-sex marriage. All 31 had been in favor of restricting marriage to opposite-sex couples. Washington Post/ABC News have been using the same "legal" / "illegal" wording in SSM polls since 2003. They note that Pew Research, the Associated Press, and CNN polls have shown similar trends.

The Post/ABC poll detected a rapid increase in support among men who have historically been less supportive than women, but reached parity in this poll. Also, support among college-educated whites, political independents, and people who do not consider themselves religious rose substantially. Republicans, political conservatives and white evangelical Christians continue to be the groups most opposed to SSM.

In the past, those who strongly opposed SSM were significantly greater in numbers than those who were strongly in support. This poll showed equal levels of passion: 35% strongly against and 36% strongly in favor.

The poll may have been influenced by other recent developments in the country:

  • A federal judge in California declared Proposition 8 in California to be unconstitutional.

  • Late in 2010, Congress passed a law that will probably eventually eliminate the Don't Ask, Don't Tell (DADT) policy of the military.

  • A federal judge in Massachusetts declared the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) -- the law that deprives married same-sex couples the same 1,100 federal benefits that opposite-sex couples automatically receive -- to be in conflict with four separate clauses of the U.S. Constitution.

  • The Obama administration decided in 2011-MAR that it could not in good conscience defend the DOMA law in court.

  • The public recently became increasingly aware of the dangers of harassment of lesbians and gays. The link between such harassment and subsequent suicides by gay youths had recently been given a high profile in the media.

  • Also in 2011-MAR, Democrats in Congress introduced bills to repeal the DOMA law.

These changes might have caused more people to seriously consider whether restrictions on equal rights for loving, committed same-sex couples should be continued. They might have had an accumulative effect in favor of increasing support for SSM nationally. On the other hand, the same changes might have caused a dithering effect on support and opposition to SSM during 2009 and 2010.

A subsequent Washington Post/ABC news poll of 2012-MAY-18 also found a majority (53%) of Americans in favor of SSM. 5

Washington Post/ABC commented: "Gay marriage opposition hits new low."

Date Favor SSM Oppose SSM No opinion/no response
2011-MAR 53 39 8

This is the first national poll that we have seen in which the opposition to SSM is below 40%.

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Fox News/Opinion Dynamics poll of 2010-AUG:

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.

  • Responding to the question: "Do you think gays and lesbians have a constitutional right to get married and have their marriage recognized by law as valid?" the results were:
    Yes 49%; No 51%; Unsure or no response: 0%.

  • Responding to the question: "Do you think gays and lesbians should have a constitutional right to get married and have their marriage recognized by law as valid?" the results were:
    Yes 52%; No 46%; Unsure or no response: 2%. 3
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References used:

The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.

  1. Domenico Montanaro, "Poll shows support for gay marriage," First Read, 2009-APR-30, at: http://firstread.msnbc.msn.com/
  2. Sandhya Somashekhar and Peyton Craighill, "Slim majority back gay marriage, Post-ABC poll says," Washington Post, 2011-MAR-18, at: http://www.washingtonpost.com/
  3. "Same-sex marriage, gay rights," PollingReport.com, as at 2010-AUG-13, at: http://www.pollingreport.com/
  4. "ABC News/Washington Post poll: Gay Marriage," ABC News, 2011-MAR, at: http://abcnews.go.com/
  5. "Gay marriage opposition hits new low," Washington Post, 2012-MAY-23, at: http://www.washingtonpost.com/

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Site navigation:

Home page > "Hot" religious topics > Homosexuality > Polls > SSM-Civil union polls > here

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Copyright © 2003 TO 2011 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally written: 2003
Latest update: 2012-SEP=09
Author: B.A. Robinson

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