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Same-sex marriage (SSM) & domestic partnerships in California

Polling data about Prop. 8

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Field public opinion polls about SSM -- 1997 to 2008:

California Field Polls have shown that support for SSM among California registered voters has steadily increased in recent years. In 2008, most voters favored SSM for the first time:

Year Favor SSM Oppose SSM
1977 29% 59%
2006 44% 50%
2008 51% 42%

The California Field Poll survey for 2008 cited above sampled 672 likely voters during the week of July 8 to 14.

 They found that:

  • 51 % of voters were likely to vote against Prop. 8 and for equality of access to marriage by all loving, committed couples.
  • 42 % supported the proposed amendment.
  • 63% of registered Democrats indicated that they would vote against the measure; they favor marriage equality.
  • 68% of registered Republicans would vote in favor of the proposed amendment; they favor special rights for opposite-sex couples.
  • Independents would vote against it 66 to 27%. 1

This survey was conducted between MAY-17 and MAY-26, after the court decision legalized SSM. 1,052 registered voters were contacted over the phone. The margin of error is about ~+mn~3 percentage points.

Anything over 50% support for the Proposition would would pass it. However, there is a debate whether Prop 8 is a simple amendment to the Constitution or represents a more major change -- a revision. Proponents of Prop. 8 believe that it is a minor amendment. Those supporting marriage equity generally believe that it is a revision. If it is the latter, then the California legislature would have to approve the change.

Prop 8 did narrowly pass. Its future will undoubtedly be determined by the Supreme Court of California.

Additional polls taken during 2008:

Date Polling agency Favor Prop 8  Oppose Prop 8  Undecided Sample size margin of error#
2008-MAY-23 L A Times, KTLA 54% 35% 11% 834 ~+mn~ 3 % points
2008-MAY-28 Field Poll 42 51 7 1,052 ~+mn~3
2008-JUL-17 Field Poll 42 51 7 672 ~+mn~4
2008-AUG-27 PPIoC* 40 54 6 1,047 ~+mn~3
2008-SEP-16 Field Poll 38 55 7 830 ~+mn~3
2008-SEP-24 PPIoC 41 55 4 1,157 ~+mn~3

* Public Policy Institute of California.
# Approximate value for a 95% level of confidence.

It is difficult to compare data from different polling agencies. The pollsters phrase the question differently; this can easily sway the results. Some highly biases questions might be:

  • Are you in favor of or opposed to Prop 8.
  • On Proposition 8, do you favor a return to the traditional, historical definition of marriage?
  • Do you think that sodomites should be allowed to marry?
  • Are you in favor of or opposed to marriage equality?
  • Courts gave homosexuals the right to marry. Do you favor eliminating this right?
  • Do you feel that marriage should be a benefit restricted only to opposite-sex couples?

No reputable polling agency would phrase questions like this. But we have seen polling questions almost this bad.

2008-OCT-04 poll shows shift in favor of Prop 8:

SurveyUSA conducted a poll of  670 likely voters. Each was asked: "Proposition 8 would eliminate the right of same-sex couples to marry. It changes the California Constitution so that only marriage between a man and a woman is valid in California. On Proposition 8, are you ... Certain to vote yes? Certain to vote no? Or not certain." The margin of error is ~+mn~ 3.9 percentage points.

They found:

  • 47% planned to vote yes, and restrict marriage to one man and one woman.
  • 42% planned to vote no, and retain marriage equality.

Asians and Blacks were more likely than Whites to vote yes; Hispanics were more likely to vote no.

Republicans, conservatives, and religious service attendees were more in favor of Prop 8; Democrats. liberals and those who never attend religious services were opposed. 2

2008-OCT-09 poll shows approval of Prop 8 likely:

Geoff Kors, a member of the Vote No on Prop. 8 executive committee reported on his group's survey that indicated 47% of likely voters favor the proposition and 43% oppose it. He said:

"Our most recent polling data shows us four points behind. And unless we raise significant new dollars, we will not be able to compete with the proponents on television."

Steve Smith, the senior campaign strategist for the group said:

"While our poll didn't surprise us, it did confirm that we were starting to lose ground because we simply cannot match the proponents dollar for dollar on television, We wanted to let the LGBT community know that there is a level of complacency and false sense of security, and we wanted to set the record straight. Public polls have given everyone the impression that this campaign is over--it's already won. Nothing could be further from the truth." 5

Are these polls accurate?

If the polling questions are unbiased, the poll data are generally accurate within the margin of error to a 95% level of confidence. That is, if the poll were replicated 20 times with different subjects, the results would probably be within the margin of error about 19 times.

However, there may be a discrepancy between polling data taken just before the election and the results of the election for a variety of reasons:

  • Propositions never precisely reflect the actual will of the electorate; they only reflect the will of those among the electorate who make the effort to vote. Those who are opposed to SSM are probably more likely to be strongly opposed, and thus be more likely to make the effort to vote. Those who favor SSM are more likely to be weakly in favor, and less likely to vote.
  • Subjects of polls sometimes lie, partly because of what is called social desirability bias. That is, some people sampled will give the answer that they think the pollster wants to hear rather than their own answer. One classical example is when people are asked whether they go to religious services each week. A typical poll shows that 40% of American adults say they attend, but an actual counting of noses reveals that only 20% actually do. About half of the subjects are lying. In Canada the same bias happens, although the numbers are lower: about 20% and 10%.
  • Ads -- particularly negative or fear-based ads -- can be very effective in swaying public opinion. A last minute saturation ad campaign can alter people's vote.
  • Other factors unrelated to the Proposition can affect the final vote. In the case of Prop 8, it was held when Barak Obama, an African American, was running for President. This motivated many African American voters to come out and vote both for their choice of president and on the Proposition. Since African Americans are more highly opposed to same-sex marriage than average, they swayed the vote in favor of Prop 8 and against marriage equality.

Wikipedia reports:

"In the 2000 primary election, Proposition 22 passed with a margin eight points greater than predicted by one polling organization. The Field Poll immediately prior to the election showed 53% of likely voters in favor. Other polls conducted in the same month showed 57% of voters supported the measure. The actual vote in favor was 61.4% of votes cast (of all ballots, 58.6% voted yes, 36.9% voted no, and 4.5% did not vote).
An analysis by Patrick J. Egan [an associate professor of politics at] ... New York University suggests that such gaps have been falling steadily over recent years. Seven of the states that voted on marriage bans in 2006 have polling data available. In those, the average gap between polled support for the measure and the final outcome was under one percentage point. 3,4

Prop 8 narrowly passed on 2008-NOV-04 with 52.% in favor and 47.5% opposed -- a span of 5%.

References used:

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

  1. "Poll: Calif. voters oppose marriage ban," The Advocate, undated, at:
  2. "Results of SurveyUSA election poll #14503," Survey USA, 2008-OCT-06, at: This is a PDF file.
  3. "California Proposition 8 (2008), Wikipedia, 2008-SEP-27, at:
  4. Patrick J. Eagan, "Can You Trust the Polling on Proposition 8?," The Advocate, 2008-SEP at:
  5. "California's Prop 8 likely to pass, says poll," DiversityInc, 2008-OCT-09, at:

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Copyright © 2008 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Latest update and review: 2008-NOV-05
Author: B.A. Robinson

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