Are conservatives moving toward marriage equality?
by Mike Andrew -
SGN Staff Writer
A new Survey USA poll released September 11 shows support for marriage equality among Washingtonians widening since July, with 56% of survey respondents saying they would vote to approve Referendum 74. Only 38% said they would reject it.
By contrast, the July results showed 50% approving and 43% rejecting the measure.
In the new poll, Survey USA sampled 534 likely voters, 71% of them via landline and the remainder via 'smartphone, tablet, laptop, or other electronic device.' The poll's stated margin of error is 4.3 points.
The latest round of polling was conducted September 7-9, and some observers speculate that R-74 got a 'bounce' out of the enthusiastic support for marriage equality displayed at the Democratic National Convention, which concluded September 6.
There are reasons to be skeptical about that, however.
Among self-identified Democrats - who would presumably be most affected by the convention - the increase in support for R-74 between July and September was only two points, which is within the poll's margin of error. In other words, most Democrats are already on board with marriage equality, and at somewhat more than 80% support, that number is probably close to its maximum.
The increase in support among independents, who also might have been influenced by convention coverage, was only three points - again within the margin of error. As with Democrats, it is likely that support for marriage equality is already reaching its upper limit among independents.
GOP OPPOSITION SOFTENING
The biggest jump in pro-equality poll numbers comes among self-identified Republicans. In July, 14% said they would vote to approve R-74, with 79% rejecting it. By September, 25% of Republicans said they would approve the measure, as opposed to 70% who would reject it. If accurate, this represents a 20-point shift in opinion among Republicans.
A similar shift is evident when you look at crosstabs for ideology.
Among self-identified liberals, support for marriage equality seems to have maxed out at around 87% (in September) or 88% (in July). Among moderates there was a six-point increase, from 58% approving in July to 64% in September. But among conservatives, the increase was eight points, from a mere 12% in July to 20% in September.
The apparent trend of conservative voters moving toward equality is also evident when you compare the marriage question with the respondents' preference for governor.
In both the July and September polls, 79% of voters who prefer Jay Inslee, a supporter of marriage equality, would also approve R-74. This is pretty much as expected.
But support for equality among Rob McKenna voters jumps seven points between July and September, with 31% - almost a third - now saying they would Approve R-74. If accurate, this represents a 14-point shift in opinion toward equality.
MORE RURAL SUPPORT
Liberal bastion Metro Seattle seems to have reached its upper limit of support for R-74 at 60% in the September poll. It was 58% in July. In contrast, the rest of Western Washington, including the Olympic Peninsula, jumped from 41% support in July to 54% in the latest poll, a 26-point shift in opinion.
In conservative Eastern Washington, pro- and anti-equality opinion is now statistically tied, with 48% ready to Approve R-74 and 47% rejecting it. In July, only 37% of Eastern Washington voters would have approved the measure, as opposed to 56% who would have rejected it.
Among voters with only a high school education, who are often thought to be more traditional-minded on social issues, a majority - 51% - now supports marriage equality. In July, only 46% did so. The same is true for voters who have had some college, but did not get a degree - 52% now would approve R-74, as opposed to the 44% who would have done so in July.
Other categories where support for equality has surged are women and younger voters - both key demographics for the Approve R-74 campaign.
Support among women jumped from 55% in July to 65% in September. Among voters in the 18-34 age group, support jumped from 56% in July to 67% in the latest poll - a two-to-one margin. Among voters 35-49, support for equality also increased, from 53% to 60%.
A FEW CAVEATS
Attempting to explain these numbers - in particular the apparent surge in support for marriage equality among voters who identify as conservative and/or Republican - would be speculative without being able to ask Survey USA's respondents follow-up questions.
One significant difference that can be identified between the July and September polls is that the July numbers were based on registered voters, but in September, Survey USA sampled 'likely' voters, a much different universe.
Survey USA did not explain how it determined who is likely to vote in the upcoming election, although it did indicate a percentage of its assumed 'likely' electorate for each of its demographic crosstabs - 49% of the likely voters will be men, for example, and 51% will be women.
The likely-voter category comes with its own set of assumptions, which may or may not prove to be true of the actual electorate. Likely voters are often said to be older, whiter, wealthier, and therefore more conservative than the pool of registered voters.
On the other hand, likely voters are also said to be better educated, 'high information' voters, meaning they actively seek out information on candidates and ballot issues. Polls have consistently indicated that better educated voters tend to be more supportive of LGBT rights in general, and marriage equality in particular, than less well-educated voters.
WHERE'S THE OPPOSITION?
Another factor may be that pro-equality messages have dominated the media.
Pride Foundation, for example, has been running a series of soft-sell issue ads about marriage featuring, among others, Republican State Senator Cheryl Pflug, advocating 'freedom, including the freedom to marry the person you love.' Another ad featured a white minister and his wife talking about their Gay son and his partner.
These ads, coupled with the support of several mainstream religious denominations for equality and even the emergence of Catholic advocates, may have been effective in moving opinion among more conservative voters.
With barely a month to go before ballots are mailed to voters, the Approve R-74 campaign has announced a new media buy, which may move even more voters into the pro-equality camp. The other side has yet to mount a significant public media campaign, however, and it remains to be seen what effect that campaign will have on public opinion when it comes.
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