Early trends in support of, &
to, gay marriage by
adults: 1986 to 2013-JUN
"SSM" is an acronym for "same-sex marriage." Although "gay marriage"
is a more commonly term we like "SSM" because it is more accurate.
Some same-sex marriages involve a couple of the same sex in which
one or two spouses are not gay or lesbian; they are bisexual.
Part 1 of two parts
Results of major polls: Years 1986 to 2013:
The Pew Research Center conducted a public opinion poll between
2008-MAY-21 and 25. This was shortly after the Supreme Court of California
issued a ruling legalizing SSM in the state. For the first time ever, a major poll found that
a minority of American adults (49%) opposed SSM. 1
Late 2008: Jay McDonough published a fascinating graph on his "swimming
freestyle" weblog titled: "Gay marriage will be legal by 2012." He incorporated data from many dozens of national polls. Incidentally, he was correct that by 2012, many polling groups regularly showed that most U.S. adults favored making marriage available to same-sex couples. However, implementing marriage equality across the U.S. by allowing same-sex couples to marry took a decision by the U.S. Supreme Court in mid-2015,-- three years later than McDonouth's prediction. That decision was the result of a 5 to 4 decision. This was a 56% favorable vote among the nine Justices on the court -- thus closely matching the opinion of the general population at the time.
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 slight dip in the the number of "don't
knows, as 2008 approached. The vertical axis runs from 0 to 100%. The horizontal line half-way up
the graph is the 50% support level. 2
See below for an updated graph with 2012 data added.
2009-APR: A Washington Post/ABC poll in became the first major poll to report that more American adults say they support SSM (49%) than oppose it (46%). The blue and red lines have crossed, at least for one poll at one point in time. However the margin of error on most polls is ±3 percentage points, so this one piece of data may have been a fluke. We estimated at the time that It will probably take a few years before polls consistently showed more support than opposition to SSM. 3
2010-AUG-06: A separate poll was conducted by Fox News/Opinion Dynamics over five days starting on this date. It also showed 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%. A 2 percentage point margin.
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%. A 6 percentage point margin. 5
Unfortunately, the poll only involved only about 500 randomly selected subjects. Thus the margin of error is ±4.5%. We hoped that a repeat of the poll will be scheduled for the near future in order to firm up the data.
Two months later, we asked the National Organization for Marriage (NOM) -- the leading group in the U.S. who is working to deny marriage to same-sex couples -- for their opinion on the above graph. We didn't expect any response from them. As of the latest update to this essay in late 2016-DEC, our expectations have been confirmed: no reply or acknowledgment of our Email has been received.
2011-MAR-17: The Washington Post published the following graph showing the results of their joint poll with ABC News. Supporters of SSM were 53% compared with 44% opposed -- a 9 percentage point margin. This gap is statistically significant because it is much larger than the margin of error.
The survey was taken among a representative sample of 1,005 adults. The margin of error is ±3.5 percentage points. 6More details on this poll.
2011-APR-06: New York state poll on SSM is completed:
We normally don't report on state results, but the data for New York State is so remarkable, we are listing it here:
The Sienna College Research Institute sampled 777 New York state registered voters, for a margin of error of ±3.5%.
Don't know/no answer
The results showed unusually high support for SSM. The poll broke many records in comparison with previous state and national polls in the U.S.:
A 22% margin of support among all voters.
A 30% margin among Whites.
A majority support by Blacks.
59% support among Roman Catholics. This is the highest of any organized religious group in the state. It showed a massive rejection of the Catholic hierarchy's teaching by the laity.
74% support by young adult voters.
78% -- the largest support of any recognized group -- among non-Judeo-Christians, a group that lumps together Muslims, Atheists, Agnostics, Scientologists, etc. 8
These results caused David Badash, a writer for The New Civil Rights Movement, to title his article on the poll: "Is There Anyone Left In New York Who Does Not Support Same Sex Marriage?" 9
The answer is yes: conservative Protestants oppose SSM by significant degree. Also Republicans and persons over the age of 54 oppose SSM by a small percentage (by 3 and 1 percentage points; both are within the margin of error).
Looking at this poll, it becomes obvious that if the Republican party continues to tie their political future to a policy of oppressing the LGBT community, they will commit slow political suicide. These results show that adults under the age of 34 were 74% in favor of SSM, and 22% opposed -- more than a 3 to 1 ratio. Meanwhile, those over 54 years-of-age were a statistical dead heat at 45% in favor and 46% opposed. If the Republican party continues to be anti-LGBT, their voter support over the next decades will be very seriously eroded in New York State, and eventually across the entire U.S.
On 2011-MAY-11, we sent a request to the National Organization for Marriage -- the leading group attempting to deprive same-sex couples of the opportunity to marry -- asking for their comments on the above trends, so that we could include their thoughts here. One month later, there was, as expected, no response.
2012-MAY-09: Nate Silver's "FiveThirtyEight: Politics Done Right" blog regularly combines a massive number of data points extracted from poll results listed at pollingreport.com, the General Social Survey, and other sources.He produces graphs like the following showing data from the late 1980s -- when support was only of the order of 11% and opposition was about 73% -- to the present time when support outnumbers opposition. 4
Needless to say, these data do not necessarily translate into results in plebiscites or other citizen initiatives, for a variety of reasons:
Often those opposed to marriage equality feel more strongly and are thus more likely to turn out and vote than those who favor equality.
Sometimes, other questions appear on the ballot like personhood amendments, education matters, etc. that will encourage more conservative voters to go to the polling booths, where they will also vote negatively on marriage equality.
Referendums are often preceded by many months of fear-based TV ads that temporarily sway many voters against marriage equality.