Gay Marriage and Polling

A new poll from Democratic firm Public Policy Polling has 50 percent of Rhode Islanders favoring same-sex marriage and 41 percent opposed. It's a good number for advocates. And the long-term picture is even better.

Young people overwhelmingly support gay marriage, according to the poll: 62 percent of 18- to 29-year-olds are in favor and just 31 percent opposed. Among those over age 65, 39 percent are in favor and 48 percent are opposed.

Over time, as older opponents die off, advocates have the makings of a lopsided majority. Trouble is, supporters are trying to convince members of the General Assembly to back gay nuptials now. And those legislators are probably most concerned about the views of older folk, who are more likely to vote come 2012 (even if President Obama retains his power to draw youthful voters to the polls).

Moreover, the Public Policy Polling numbers are not as strong as those from a poll conducted by Gay and Lesbian Defenders & Advocates (GLAD) in Rhode Island last summer. That poll asked the question a couple of different ways and found either 57 or 59 percent of voters in support of same-sex marriage.

And wording matters, of course. Here are the two relevant questions from the GLAD poll, in the order they were asked:

Q.18 Currently there is a bill being considered in the State General Assembly that would allow equal access to marriage for same-sex couples. Churches, clergy and other religious institutions would NOT be required to perform same-sex marriages. Do you favor or oppose this bill?

Total "strongly" or "somewhat" favor: 57 percent

Total "strongly" or "somewhat" oppose: 33 percent

Q.20 Do you favor or oppose allowing gay and lesbian couples to marry legally?

Total "strongly" or "somewhat" favor: 59 percent

Total "strongly" or "somewhat" oppose: 31 percent

The explicit suggestion that religious institutions would not be required to perform same-sex marriages may have bumped up the numbers, here (and that bump suggests the importance of hammering the religious-exmption point home).

Here's the Public Policy Polling question, perhaps a bit more straightforward:

Do you favor or oppose allowing gay and lesbian couples to marry legally?

Favor: 50 percent

Oppose: 41 percent

Not sure: 9 percent

The Public Policy Polling survey also takes an early look at Senator Sheldon Whitehouse's electoral prospects come 2012. Bottom line: he looks pretty solid, if not invincible. Here's analysis from Ted Nesi over at WPRI, former ProJo scribe Steve Peoples at Roll Call, and Phil Marcelo at the ProJo.

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