The new Pew poll issued yesterday, part of a longstanding opinion survey series, differs in some respects from other recent polls on gay marriage. As press accounts have noted, it doesn’t show a big overall bounce to the cause from President Obama’s endorsement, nor does it show gay marriage having reached plurality support among African-Americans (who in most polls until this year have been less supportive of the idea than white voters.) Interestingly, it indicates a polarization effect since the President’s May endorsement: Democrats have shifted in favor of the cause, Republicans against, in both cases because undecideds are more likely to side with their perceived “team.”
With a Democratic committee having just moved unanimously to include support for gay marriage in the national party platform, some Republicans have made noises about hoping that the issue will fracture the Democratic coalition while uniting Republicans. But the Pew numbers provide reason to doubt this. Pew finds that moderate-to-liberal Republicans continue to oppose gay marriage, but by only a nine-point margin, 41 to 50 percent. Meanwhile, moderate-to-conservative Democrats support gay marriage by a firmer 54 to 38 percent margin. Put differently, moderate Republicans are more likely to disagree with their party’s stand against gay marriage than moderate Democrats are to disagree with theirs.
And the other Pew findings underline the dangers for the Maryland Republican Party in tying itself to the anti-gay-marriage cause. Independent voters continue to favor gay marriage by a 51-40 margin, affluent voters by 57-37, college grads by 60-34, Catholics (despite the church hierarchy’s well-known stance) by 58-33, voters under 30 by a whopping 63-32. And opposition to gay marriage continues its path to the status of a regional opinion holding sway only in the South: a plurality supports it not only in the Northeast (62-32) and West (51-41), but in the Midwest as well (49-43).
Even were the Maryland GOP to stake its fortunes on the highly dubious notion that Maryland votes like a Southern state, there would be scant comfort, since even in the South gay marriage now lags by only 13 points (39-52), and generational shifts are likely to narrow that margin within a few years. Among African-Americans, Pew finds an overall 11-point gap, 40-51, which probably contains within it a regional gap of its own between blacks in the Deep South, where opposition persists, and those in places like, say, Philadelphia and Washington, D.C., where gay marriage has ceased to be a political loser. How safe is it to assume that black voters in places like Baltimore, Prince George’s and Montgomery will behave more like black voters in Alabama or Mississippi than like black voters in Philadelphia or D.C.?
Two polls that came out in May, using different methodologies and samples than Pew’s, are even less comforting for opponents of gay marriage. The Washington Post’s found the public favored gay marriage by 53-39, with majority black support for the idea. And a Public Policy Polling survey of Maryland opinion found a 57-37 lead for gay marriage among Maryland voters, with black Marylanders favoring the idea 55-36.
If the Maryland Republican Party makes the mistake of tying itself to this issue in this fall’s campaign, it will needlessly isolate itself from the concerns of the majority of Maryland voters.
P.S. Just out on Thursday, a new Hart Research Associates poll of Maryland voters finds 54-40 support, with a one-point deficit among black voters — numbers broadly consistent with the Pew survey, and (like it) suggesting a partial (but only partial) subsidence of the May “Obama bounce.” [Advocate, NYT/Frank Bruni]