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Back to Section One | Back to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, July 27 2012 - Volume 40 Issue 30
Approve R-74 leads in polls, but it's not a slam dunk
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Approve R-74 leads in polls, but it's not a slam dunk

Seattle-area edge is huge, opposition strong elsewhere

by Mike Andrew - SGN Staff Writer

Two new polls show more Washington voters would approve Referendum 74 than would reject it, but there is not yet enough of a lead to assure victory for marriage equality.

A SurveyUSA poll released July 18 showed 50% of the respondents ready to approve R-74, and therefore the Marriage Equality Act, as opposed to 43% who would reject it. Numbers from an Elway poll released the next day show very similar results: 49% would vote to approve R-74 and 39% would reject it.

The new numbers are consistent with some previous polling, but the margin of support for marriage equality in the newest polls is somewhat less than that shown in the most encouraging of the older polls.

In a PPP poll released June 19, for example, 51% of those surveyed said same-sex marriage should be legal, while only 42% said it should be illegal.

PPP's findings were noticeably different from an S360 poll released May 30. That poll showed voters supporting same-sex marriage by a 21-point margin, 54% to 33%.

While differences among the polls could be explained by actual changes in public opinion as both sides make their respective cases to the voters, they more likely result from differing methodologies.

First, SurveyUSA and Elway sampled registered voters, which is a different universe from the 'likely voters' sampled by PPP and S360. 'Likely voters' tend to be more engaged in political discourse, more informed about ballot issues, and informed about them earlier, than registered voters as a whole.

Second, the sample sizes differ significantly. SurveyUSA polled 630 individuals, but Elway sampled only 408, PPP polled 1,073, and S360 surveyed 500. Generally speaking, the larger the sample size, the smaller the margin of error and the more accurately the poll will reflect public opinion as a whole.

Third, SurveyUSA asked respondents how they planned to vote on R-74, while PPP and S360 asked a more hypothetical question: 'Should same-sex marriage be legal or illegal?'

Elway asked both questions, and that produced a quirky - if not especially significant - result: 52% favored same-sex marriage, but only 49% said they would vote to approve R-74.

This led some observers to speculate that voters do not understand that approving R-74 is the same as supporting marriage equality. If this is true, it could be an important - and possibly crippling - obstacle for the Approve Referendum 74 campaign.

In fact, the three-point difference is well within Elway's margin of error, and could be explained simply as a statistical anomaly. While it may be true that voters are confused about what R-74 would actually do, that conclusion is not demonstrated by the polling.

SurveyUSA's crosstabs revealed some surprising information.

Although the demographics of marriage equality continue to be borne out in a number of polls - women, younger voters, better educated voters, Democrats, and residents of Seattle are far more likely to support equality - the opinions of communities of color run counter to some observers' expectations.

SurveyUSA reports that an astonishing 66% of Hispanic voters would approve R-74, and only 27% would reject it. Among voters described as 'Asian/Other,' 49% would vote to approve and 34% to reject.

In contrast, white voters were more evenly split - 49% would approve and 46% would reject R-74. SurveyUSA did not include data for African-American voters because too few responded to the poll.

In an interesting sidebar, SurveyUSA included data comparing cell-phone respondents to those who were polled via landline. Fifty-sex percent of cell-phone respondents said they would approve R-74 as opposed to 39% who would reject it. In contrast, landline users were pretty evenly split - 47% would approve and 45% would reject.

Geographically, the greater Seattle area is the stronghold of equality. Fifty-eight percent of metropolitan Seattle voters would approve R-74, and only 35% would reject it. In contrast, both Eastern Washington (37% approve, 57% reject) and Western Washington, including the Olympic Peninsula (41% approve, 51% reject) show majorities against equality.

In 2009, Referendum 71 to approve the state's domestic partnership law won statewide with majorities in King, Snohomish, Skagit, Whatcom, Thurston, Jefferson, and Clallam counties - all in Western Washington.

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