Today we release initial results from our polling over the past weekend on the question of same-sex marriage. Not surprisingly, given the results of our previously released polls on this question, a majority of NJ voters continues to support legal recognition for same sex marriage. Pretty much no matter how we have asked this question over the past six months, we have found a majority in support. Today’s results confirm that even as the debate has heated up again with the introduction of a marriage equality bill in the NJ legislature, positions have shifted little. We do see some increased support in certain groups – in particular men overall have become more supportive. But increases in some groups have been offset by stronger opposition among the most conservative voters, who have moved 8 points more negative since October. The result is little change in aggregate opinion, but some evidence of ideological polarization.
The full text of the release follows. You can get a PDF of the release with all tables here.
RUTGERS-EAGLETON POLL: MAJORITY OF NEW JERSEY VOTERS
SUPPORT GAY MARRIAGE
Some polarization evident as legislature debates the issue
NEW BRUNSWICK, N.J. – As the New Jersey state Senate prepares to vote on gay marriage, a new Rutgers-Eagleton Poll shows that 54 percent of Garden State voters say gay marriage should be legalized. Fewer than 40 percent oppose such a move, while 7 percent have no position on the issue. The last time the state legislature debated a marriage bill, during the 2009 lame-duck session, only 46 percent of Garden Staters were in favor, and 40 percent opposed.
“Over the past two years there has been a clear shift towards support for same-sex marriage in national polling and in New Jersey,” said Rutgers-Eagleton Poll director David Redlawsk, a professor of political science at Rutgers University in New Brunswick. “This shift has occurred pretty much across the spectrum, with the exception of the strongly religious and most conservative voters. And while there has been little aggregate change since this reintroduction of the marriage bill we are seeing some ideological polarization as the debate develops.”
Results are from a poll of 914 registered voters conducted statewide among both landline and cell phone households from Feb. 9-11. The full sample has a margin of error of +/- 3.3 percentage points.
Support for Gay Marriage in New Jersey
Majority support for legalizing gay marriage in New Jersey cuts across demographic groups. Self-identified liberals are the most supportive, at 81 percent, while 63 percent of Democrats say they favor legalization. Majorities of moderates (55 percent) and independent voters (56 percent) are also in favor. Younger voters are overwhelmingly supportive, with three-quarters of those under 30 supporting gay marriage. Except for the oldest voters, other age groups are also supportive: 57 percent of those 30 to 49 years old express support for legalization, along with 55 percent of those 50 to 64 years old.
Despite ongoing expressions of concern by Catholic Church leadership, a 52 percent majority of Catholic voters continue to support legalizing same-sex marriage. Protestant voters, however, are less supportive, with only 43 percent in favor and 50 percent opposed.
Since a Rutgers-Eagleton Poll in October 2011, men have become more supportive of gay marriage. In October, 47 percent of men supported legalization while 45 percent opposed. Today, a majority of men – 52 percent – are in favor, while 40 percent oppose. Women remain more supportive, 57 percent to 37 percent, similar to the October poll.
“Support for legalizing same-sex marriage runs deep in New Jersey, with limited exceptions,” said Redlawsk. “And while there is no doubt that many of those who oppose the idea feel strongly about it, most New Jerseyans in most demographic groups think it is time to make same-sex marriage legal.”
Opposition to Gay Marriage
Strong opposition to gay marriage does remain within certain groups. Voters who are born-again or evangelical Christians are strongly opposed, with 7 in 10 against legalizing gay marriage. Conservative voters express opposition in similar numbers with 69 percent opposed and 24 percent in favor. Also against gay marriage are voters 65 years old and older, of whom 55 percent oppose and only 37 percent support legalization. Not surprisingly, only 35 percent of Republican voters support the measure, while 58 percent oppose it. And while white voters are in favor by 56 percent to 36 percent, Black voters feel differently with half opposing and 43 percent supporting legalizing gay marriage.
“Opposition to gay marriage is driven primarily by strong religious beliefs for many of its opponents, somewhat independently of political beliefs,” noted Redlawsk. “In particular, Black voters, who reliably vote Democratic, break with the large majority of the party in their opposition, reflecting a more conservative outlook on key social issues like same-sex marriage.”
Polarization as the Debate has Developed
Today’s results suggest ideological polarization on the issue since October. During the past four months moderates have become more supportive, moving from 49 percent support to 55 percent today. Liberals have also shifted even more in favor, up from 75 percent to 81 percent. Conservative voters, on the other hand, have become even more opposed, dropping by 8 points from 32 percent support in October to 24 percent today. The gap between liberals and conservative on legalizing gay marriage has increased from 43 points to 57 points over just a few months.
“As the Democrats in the legislature focus on same-sex marriage, voters have responded by becoming more polarized on the issue,” said Redlawsk. “Debates like this focus public opinion on the two opposite positions, moving apart those even slightly inclined one way or the other. Polarization reflects voters paying more attention and better aligning their own position on the issue with their overall ideological preferences.”