Yesterday we reported that a majority of NJ Voters support same-sex marriage. Today we expand on that by also noting that a majority support’s NJ Gov. Chris Christie’s call for a vote on the issue, while 40 percent support Newark Mayor Cory Booker’s position that the issue is one of civil rights and should not be submitted to a vote. One interesting twist though. NJ votes don’t care very much about the issue – it is not considered even very important by a large majority. BUT, those who support marriage equality are much more likely to call it an important issue than are those who oppose it. Interesting food for thought here – if there were a referendum, would supporters be more likely to get out than opponents? If so, that would be pretty much the opposite of what has happened elsewhere when the issue has been on the ballot.
The text of the release follows. For a PDF of the text along with the questions and tables, click here.
RUTGERS-EAGLETON POLL: NEW JERSEY VOTERS SUPPORT GOV. CHRISTIE’S CALL FOR GAY MARRIAGE REFERENDUM
Majority supports gay marriage but issue not that important to most
NEW BRUNSWICK, N.J – Even with a majority of New Jersey voters supporting the legalization of gay marriage, more than half also back Gov. Chris Christie’s call for a November referendum on the question, according to a new Rutgers-Eagleton Poll. At the same time, most say gay marriage is not one of their top issues.
As reported by the Rutgers-Eagleton Poll yesterday, 54 percent of Garden State voters favor legalizing same-sex marriage. At the same time, 53 percent of voters support Christie’s call for a vote on the issue while 40 percent support Newark Mayor Cory Booker’s position that gay marriage is a civil rights issue that should not be decided upon by voters. Even among those who support gay marriage, a majority wants a referendum.
While the Democratic-led Legislature has made gay marriage a top priority, fewer than 25 percent of voters say gay marriage is the most important or one of a very few important issues facing New Jersey today. “It’s surprising that so many of those who support same-sex marriage are also in favor of a referendum,” said Rutgers-Eagleton Poll Director David Redlawsk, a professor of political science at Rutgers. “It may be that given several polls showing majority support among voters, supporters of same-sex marriage think it would win in November. But in the face of a likely intensive campaign from opponents, this could be wishful thinking.”
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.
Clear support for referendum across most demographic groups
While 54 percent of registered voters support legalizing gay marriage, voters also want to be able to weigh in on the issue – 53 percent of all voters support Christie’s proposal to have a referendum. This majority support for a ballot question persists across most demographic groups as well as among those who support legalization. Among gay marriage supporters, half also favor Christie’s call for a referendum, while 44 percent oppose it. Among those who oppose gay marriage, 60 percent support the referendum.
The referendum issue was raised in the context of the governor’s call for a ballot question and Booker’s stance that same-sex marriage is about civil rights and not for voters to decide. Given the framing, it is notable that voters with a favorable impression of Booker are evenly split on the call for a referendum, 47 percent for and 48 percent against. Voters with a favorable opinion of Christie clearly support a referendum, 66 percent to 29 percent.
“Despite strong favorable ratings, Mayor Booker’s position is in the minority,” said Redlawsk. “While those with an unfavorable impression of him strongly support a referendum, it is interesting that those who like the mayor are evenly split. The messenger may be liked, but the message is not resonating with most voters.”
Groups with majorities opposed to a referendum include Democrats (54 percent), those with more than a college degree (53 percent) and black voters (52 percent). Democratic voters and black voters likely oppose the referendum in part because Christie is calling for it, but also due to efforts to make a strong connection between gay marriage and civil rights, and the historical controversy surrounding putting civil rights issues on the ballot. The connection to civil rights may resonate especially with black voters despite the fact that a majority of black voters actually oppose legalizing gay marriage.
In addition, just over half of the highest income voters, just under half of liberals and half of those in a public union household also oppose the referendum
Gay marriage not a top priority for voters
As a marriage bill makes its way through the New Jersey Legislature, 40 percent of voters say gay marriage is not at all important in the context of other issues facing the state. Just over one-third believe the issue is “somewhat important” and only 22 percent call gay marriage the most important (3 percent) or “one of a few very important issues” (19 percent) that need to be addressed. This result appears across all demographic groups, with most in each group believing the issue is not important at all with only a few groups having a majority who believe it is somewhat important.
Among gay marriage supporters, about one-third think the issue is at least very important. Almost half (46 percent) think it is somewhat important and about a quarter (22 percent) think it is not important at all. A large majority of opponents (62 percent) believe the issue unimportant.
Thirty percent of Democrats, 36 percent of liberals, and 39 percent of those under 30 believe gay marriage is at least one of a few very important issues in New Jersey. Twenty-eight percent of Born Again Christians feel the same, even though they are overwhelmingly against legalization. On the other hand, Republicans and conservatives – two other groups fiercely opposed to gay marriage – are much more likely to believe the issue is not important at all.
“Supporters of same-sex marriage may have a better opportunity than in most states, if the issue were to go to referendum,” said Redlawsk. “In most places where it has been on the ballot, opponents have been the ones who were intensely concerned and mobilized by the campaign. In New Jersey, most opponents of same-sex marriage appear to not care as much about it as supporters, at least for the moment. But a strong opposition campaign could change that.”
Only about 41 percent of those who think gay marriage is very important support letting the voters decide. But more than half who believe the issue is only somewhat important or not important at all also support Christie’s proposal.
Support for gay marriage increases for many demographic groups
Support for legalizing same-sex marriage in New Jersey has increased across various demographic groups. Joining Democrats (63 percent) and liberals (81 percent) as supporters, a majority of independents (56 percent) and moderates (55 percent) are in favor of gay marriage. Voters of all age groups – except for those over 65 – are in support as well: 77 percent of those under 30, 57 percent of those 30-to-49-years-old, and 55 percent of those 50- to-64. For the first time, a clear majority of Catholics (52 percent) and males (52 percent) support same-sex marriage. Women (57 percent) and those of higher socioeconomic status – higher education (59 percent for college graduates and 68 percent for those who have completed graduate work) and higher income (more than half of voters in each of two highest income brackets) – continue to support legalization.
However, gay marriage still faces strong opposition from those groups who typically oppose it. Republican (58 percent) and conservative (69 percent) voters are still greatly opposed. Half of Protestants, 70 percent of evangelical Christians, and over half of those voters 65 years and older also show majorities opposed to legalization. Half of black voters are opposed as well.