Poll Shows California Voters Oppose Prop. 8 Same-Sex Marriage Ban genre: Gaylingual & Hip-Gnosis & Uncivil Unions


While it's far too early to celebrate, a new poll suggests that Proposition 8, an amendment to the California constitution designed to define marriage as the union of only one man and one woman, would not have sufficient support for passage. Conventional wisdom suggests that ballot measures that fail to garner significant early support are unlikely to succeed. Unfortunately, I doubt this standard can be applied to this particular measure.

From The San Diego Union-Tribune:

SACRAMENTO - Proposition 8, the constitutional amendment that would ban same-sex marriage in California, is opposed by 51 percent of likely voters with 42 percent in favor, according to a new Field Poll.

Those results put the proposed ban in a politically perilous position in the Nov. 4 election, said Mark DiCamillo, director of the nonpartisan Field Poll.

"Starting out behind is usually an ominous sign for a proposition," DiCamillo said. "Over 90 percent of propositions that start out behind get taken down."

Typically, ballot measures start out ahead, but become less popular as the opposition campaign begins raising questions and creating doubt, he said.

The poll is the first to question voters using the measure's exact language. But the results are similar to a Field Poll on the same topic in May, shortly after the California Supreme Court overturned laws that prohibited same-sex marriage.

In my experience, polls on ballot measures that are intended to deny gay rights rarely capture the actual level of voter support. Amendment Two, passed by Colorado voters in 1992, is the best example of this phenomenon. Prior to the election, virtually every poll suggested the measure was headed for defeat. As it turned out, the measure passed by nearly six percentage points.

The following information is from the Field Poll and it offers some insight into the dynamics that may be at play in November.

From The Field Poll:

There is relatively high voter awareness of Proposition 8 among the state's voting electorate. Statewide 62% of likely voters report having seen or heard something about the proposed constitutional amendment.

There are also big differences by religion. Protestants favor Prop. 8 56% to 40%, while Catholics are evenly divided. By contrast, voters affiliated with other religions or who have no religious preference are opposing Prop. 8 by wide margins.

Evangelical Christians favor the amendment better than two to one, 66% to 31%. However, non-evangelicals are on the No side 59% to 34%.

There is greater opposition to Prop. 8 among voters who personally know or work with gays or lesbians. This group, which includes nearly three in four voters statewide, opposes Prop. 8 54% to 40%. On the other hand, those who have no personal familiarity with gays or lesbians favor the amendment by a narrow margin.

I'm of the opinion that the data is instructive. To the benefit of those opposed to the constitutional ban, voter awareness is high which may suggest it will be difficult to change minds. In other words, if voters already understand the measure, and a majority opposes it, proponents may have a difficult time turning the tide. Additionally, the fact that a solid majority of the three in four voters who "know or work with gays or lesbians" will vote against the measure bolsters the belief that coming out is by far the best means to change hearts and minds. It may also suggest that those voters who oppose the measure are doing so based upon a personal consideration rather than in keeping with their religious beliefs.

On the other hand, the support for the measure by evangelicals evidences the influence right wing religious leaders still have with their followers...and it highlights their willingness to exploit any issue that can be connected with their opposition to homosexuality. Frankly, the ideology of evangelicals prohibits them from ever viewing gays as individuals...someone worthy of consideration outside the constraints of established dogma. To do so would be the equivalent of abandoning their core Biblical beliefs.

I'll offer one last observation. I took note of the fact that Catholics are evenly divided on the issue. Strange as this may sound, I suspect that the prevalence of gay priests may serve to soften the opposition to the measure. My own experience as a Catholic suggests that there is an unspoken acceptance of gays despite the fact that it is contrary to church doctrine. In other words, the psychology posits that if the church elected to embrace gays as priests for years, why should Catholic voters not embrace the right of gays to marry?

One thing most Catholics learn...especially if they've attended Catholic schools...is that hypocrisy is part and parcel of the church...which I believe can lead to a level of tacit tolerance which might not otherwise emerge. Perhaps that's a stretch, but I think it merits consideration.


1 On August 8, 2008 at 5:16 PM, Grisha wrote —

A priest I know was once asked about Prop. 8. He said: "I'd have to ask whos signature is on the civil marriage license? If the answer is 'Gavin Newsom's,' then I would have to say we should render unto Gavin Newsom ......."

Thought Theater at Blogged

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