What’s driving the rise in support for same-sex marriage in California?
It might be too much to say “young Republicans.” But they’re at least part of the story.
Public opinion on same-sex marriage in California has flipped faster than many people thought it would. According to data from the Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC), the change was largely driven by Republicans and independent voters.
The opinions of people over 35 have barely budged on the issue, but support for same-sex marriage has surged among younger voters. Young voters, however, traditionally show a poor turnout – unlike older voters, who often vote in proportionally higher numbers.
There’s one group that definitely isn’t surprised by the rise in youth support — the national Log Cabin Republicans.
“Anecdotally, you’re seeing young Republicans at the point where they’re either neutral on the issue or in support,” said Christian Berle, the groups deputy executive director.
Proposition 8, a ban on gay marriage, was approved by 53 percent to 47 percent of the electorate in November 2008, ending a five-month period when same-sex marriage was legal in California. When the PPIC polled on the question the following March, the results were predictable: 45 percent of Californians approved of same-sex marriage, within the margin of error of the “no” on Prop. 8 vote.
What happened next is interesting. Democratic support grew, from 60 percent in March 2009, to 64 percent by March 2010, to 68 percent that September.
But a proportionally far-larger change came among Republicans. Only 22 percent of Republicans approved of same-sex marriage in March 2009, but this hit 28 percent by March 2010 and 29 percent in September.
Support among independents grew even faster, from 47 percent in March 2009 to a whopping 63 percent in September 2010.
Support among all groups has fallen slightly in recent months. This is likely due to heavy coverage of same-sex marriage battles elsewhere in the country, which often appears to have the tendency to dampen support very slightly. The main battleground this year has been the large state of New York, where Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed a same-sex marriage bill in June.
Much of the coverage of the issue has focused on the issue of age and the greater degree of comfort younger voters have with same-sex marriage. Indeed, the PPIC numbers appear to show that few people over 35 have changed their minds.
Among voters 55 and older, 40 percent approved in March of 2009. This jumped to 45 percent a year ago, then sank back to 39 percent in this month’s survey. For people between 35 and 54 over the same period, support started at 45 percent, then jumped to 49 percent a year ago and stayed there in the current survey.
Among respondents between 18 and 34, however, the numbers have changed far more dramatically. Support was only 49 percent in March of 2009, surged to 66 percent a year later, and now stands at 69 percent.
One way to view these tables: Among new voters turning 18 over the past two-to-three years, support for same-sex marriage has reached an all-time high. Meanwhile, the fact that the surge has come among Republicans, independents and young people suggests that a lot of young people who aren’t Democrats support same-sex marriage. The PPIC was not able to provide specific numbers on Republicans under 35 because their sample size was too small.
The Log Cabin’s Berle said some of this may have to do with a newer — often female — group of public figures coming who aren’t just entertainers. On the one side, you have straight but gay-friendly young Republican commentators in Meghan McCain and Margaret Hoover.
Then there’s a growing crop of gay politicians. There’s are still mostly Democrats, like Houston mayor Annise Parker and Christine Quinn, speaker of the New York City Council and a much-talked-about possible successor to mayor Michael Bloomberg.
“I didn’t use to see anyone who was gay who held a job I wanted to hold,” Berle said.
He added, “If the Republican Party is going to thrive, it has to at least compete for the youth vote. Part of that is an issue that most people under 35 think is just a no-brainer.”