March 7, 2013
By Jacob Combs
A broad, diverse cross-section of the American public supports marriage equality while opposition for equal marriage rights is becoming increasingly isolated, according to a new meta-analysis of polling data released today by Freedom to Marry. The analysis was conducted by Joel Benenson, President Obama’s lead pollster in 2008 and 2012, and Jan Van Lohuizen, who worked as George W. Bush’s pollster during his 2004 reelection campaign.
While national polling released since the November election has shown a majority of Americans (around 53 percent) supports marriage equality, Benenson and van Lohuizen’s meta-analyais of exit polls revealed that the data, when broken down into its component parts, demonstrate support for equal marriage is spread across a broad, multifarious range of groups, while opposite to the freedom to marry is increasingly concentrated in a few groups.
For instance, all age groups under 65 support marriage equality, by a margin of eight percentage points (52 percent to 44 percent). These age groups make up 84 percent of the population of the United States. So while voters over age 65 continue to be substantially opposed to equal marriage rights (by a 21 point margin), these voters make up only 16 percent of the population.
Just as significantly, when viewed through the lens of religion, marriage equality enjoys support from all voters except white evangelical Christians. The numbers on this front are dramatic: white evangelical Christians oppose equal marriage rights by a remarkable 73-24 percent margin, while all other voters support it by a 58-36 percent supporters. That means that marriage equality enjoys majority support amongst white non-evangelical Protestants (by 11 percentage points), white Catholics (by 10 points), Hispanic Catholics (by 19 points), African-American non-evangelicals (by 34 percent) and Jewish voters (by a stunning 57 percent).
Two substantial pockets of opposition to marriage equality remain. The first consists of white voters without a college degree, who oppose marriage equality by a 16 point margin; white voters with college degrees as well as non-white voters with and without college degrees all support equal marriage. The second consists of voters who identify as Republican. Still, even within this sub-group there is substantial variation, both along the lines of age (51 percent of Republicans under 30 support marriage equality) and ideology: while Tea Party supporters oppose the freedom to marry by a 71 percent margin, opposition is much more muted amongst those who do not identify with the Tea Party.
Benenson and van Lohuizen’s research includes one last intriguing nugget: notwithstanding their own views on the matter, 83 percent of voters nationwide believe marriage equality will be the law of the land within 5-10 years.
What do these numbers mean? As van Lohuizen put in on a conference call with reporters, “There’s an inevitability on this as far as the voters are concerned.” Just as importantly, Benenson noted that the significant generational divide on marriage equality is highly unlikely to reverse itself. For politicians of both parties, as Benenson put it, this means that “ignoring the fact that those in opposition are increasingly a minority will leave you on the wrong end of history.”
Of course, for a variety of reasons, the views of many national politicians on both sides of the aisle (and especially Republicans) will continue to be dictated by the rabid opposition of a small, dwindling, homogenous group of voters. But as Evan Wolfson, the president of Freedom to Marry, pointed out during the call, state-based campaigns such as the ones that succeeded last November may continue to bear fruit in light of the demographic diversity amongst marriage equality supporters. Legislation is pending in several states across the country, as are legal challenges to marriage restrictions.
And, of course, the ultimate end-goal is undoubtedly a Supreme Court ruling that will step in and provide the issue with a “national resolution,” as Wolfson puts it. We’re likely still a few years away from that, because the Court will probably want to see more states come on board with marriage equality before invalidating marriage bans across the nation. As Benenson and van Lohuizen’s polling analysis demonstrates, though, the laws of the many states which prohibit marriage equality might already be opposed by a majority of those state’s electorates. Defeating those bans, state by state, is the first step forward towards providing equal marriage rights for all couples in the United States.
You can read the full results of the Freedom to Marry meta-analysis here.