California Field Poll Shows Voters Favor Same-Sex Marriage and Will Defeat November Ballot Measure to Overturn State Supreme Court Ruling5 min read

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The California Field Poll, long considered the gold standard of state polls, has just released a survey of 1052 California voters that shows the ground has shifted on same sex marriage and by a large margin they support same-sex marriage and will defeat a measure that looks likely to qualify for the November ballot. The results are unmistakable as Field asked a number of questions in a number of different ways over a ten day period ending Monday.

By a margin of 51% to 42% California voters support allowing gay and lesbian couples to marry. Split into a random subsample, by a 54% to 40% margin, voters oppose the idea of changing the California State Constitution to define marriage as between a man and a woman, thereby barring marriage between gay and lesbian couples. Another subsample, by a 51% to 43% margin, would vote against a November ballot initiative defining marriage as between a man and a woman.

Field has been polling on this subject for the last 24 years, and these findings show that the trend noted previously has continued. This is the first time in their polling that a majority supports same sex marriage. As we have written about just last week and in an analysis in March of 2007, the pattern here is one of younger voters being far more accepting of marriage equality and as the years go by, replacing older and less tolerant voters. There also is a trend of increasing acceptance of same sex marriage even in older voters.

Looking at the breakdown, there are strong divisions between those on both sides of this issue by region, age, party registration, political ideology, and religion.

By large majorities allowing same-sex couples to marry is approved of by voters in Los Angeles County (55% to 38%), the San Francisco Bay Area (68% to 24%), and in other Northern California (60% to 33%). It loses in other Southern California 51% to 41% and in the Central Valley 55% to 38%. Those in the coastal area with 71% of the state’s voters support allowing same-sex marriage by a margin of 55% to 37% while the opposite is true in inland areas where it is not supported by 52% to 40%.

There is a direct and dramatic correlation with age. Voters between 18 and 29 years are supportive (63% to 25%), between the ages of 30 and 39 (58% to 34%), between 40 and 49% (51% to 42%) and it is statistically a tie with voters aged 50 to 64 years of age (47% to 46% in favor. The only group opposed are voters 65 and older who are 20% of those registered to vote and who are opposed by a margin of 55% to 36%.

Contrary to the Los Angeles Times/KTLA poll released last week, which showed an anomaly of women voters being less receptive to same-sex marriage, Field shows women voters supportive 53% to 39%, higher than male voters at 4*% to 44% approval. This makes sense since women voters are more likely to be Democrats than men and there is a gender gap on most issues showing them to be decidedly more liberal. The Times-KTLA poll was seen as an outlier on this by Professor Charles Gossett who teaches at California State Polytechnic University in Pomona and is a published author of “Changing Public Opinion on Same Sex Marriage: The Case of California” and an expert on this topic cited by Field in its last report in March of 2007.

Field shows that White non-Hispanic California voters support same sex marriage by 53% to 41% as do Latino voters by 49% to 42%. All others (a smaller sample representing 15% of all voters) is opposed 43% to 47%, probably within the margin of error for that subsample.

Registered Democrats by 65% to 29% and non-partisan or other party voters by 61% to 27% support same-sex marriage. Republicans, who are a third of the state’s voters, are the odd man out on this, opposed to same-sex marriage by 69% to 25%.

And there is strong support for same sex marriage from those who are strongly liberal (85% to 11%) to moderately liberal (73% to 23%), and those who describe themselves as middle of the road voters 53% to 35%. Those who are strongly conservative are opposed by 85% to 11%, and moderate conservatives are opposed by 62% to 31%. Middle of the road voters’ support here is key as they constitute 42% of those registered to vote.

Protestants, who make up a third of those registered to vote in California, are opposed 57% to 34% to allowing same-sex marriage. Surprisingly, the 28% of California voters who are Catholic are only opposed by 45% to 48%, within the margin of error. Those with other religions are supportive of same-sex marriage by 61% to 33% and those with no preference of religion are supportive 81% to 12%.

While voters are divided on the Supreme Court’s decision—with 48% approving and 46% disapproving—within the margin of error—the trend is clear on a ballot measure for the Fall and how the voters would decide this issue even today.

What is important to bear in mind is that ballot measures that do not have strong support in early poling almost always fail. It is easier to convince voters who are undecided to vote against a ballot initiative than to vote for it, and voters who have already stated an opinion against a ballot measure are not likely to change to support it. With 54% opposing amending the California Constitution on this (a margin of 14 points) and 51% saying they will vote against a ballot initiative prohibiting same-sex marriage (a margin of 8 points) already, the prospects look good for marriage equality. Only 7% have no opinion on same sex marriage and 6% have no opinion on how they would vote, very low numbers of those who are undecided.

This poll is of those registered to vote, not likely voters. It is a large survey by a well established non-partisan and non-profit polling outfit that has a long track record on this as well as other California issues. Much will depend on turnout—expected to be high in this year’s presidential election.

There is a lot more of the Field poll, which can be read online.

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