As the news breaks that Gov. Chris Christie has dropped the state’s appeal of the court ruling legalizing same-sex marriage in New Jersey, we have new numbers on the issue, including results showing that a majority of NJ voters did NOT want an appeal of the decision, and more than 60 percent support same-sex marriage.
Attitudes toward same-sex marriage (often asked as “gay marriage”) in New Jersey have been tracked by the Rutgers-Eagleton Poll for more than a decade. The chart below shows the dramatic change in recent year.
The text of the release is below. Click here for a PDF of the text, questions, and tables.
VOTERS AGREE AS CHRISTIE DROPS SAME-SEX MARRIAGE APPEAL AND
STRONGLY SUPPORT MARRIAGE FOR SAME-SEX COUPLES
NEW BRUNSWICK, N.J – As wedding bells ring for the first same-sex marriages in the Garden State, a majority of New Jersey voters agrees with today’s decision by Gov. Chris Christie to drop the state’s appeal of the ruling that made New Jersey the 14th state to adopt marriage equality, according to a new Rutgers-Eagleton Poll.
Reflecting continuing changes in public opinion, support for legalizing same-sex marriage is now at 61 percent, versus 27 percent who oppose and 12 percent who are unsure. For the first time, a plurality of Republicans supports allowing same-sex couples to marry.
Opinion on the appeal is somewhat less lopsided; 53 percent say the state should accept the decision, while 40 percent wanted it appealed to the state Supreme Court.
“Beliefs about same-sex marriage have shifted rapidly,” said David Redlawsk, director of the Rutgers-Eagleton Poll and professor of political science at Rutgers. “Fully one-quarter of today’s supporters tell us they were previously opposed. Not long ago, a ruling like this would have created a significant backlash. Now most voters agree with it.”
Even as they concur with the decision and Christie’s decision to drop the appeal, a large majority of voters would still prefer to be the final decision makers. Sixty-two percent say voters should get to weigh in, compared to 23 percent who believe the decision should lie with the courts and 10 percent who want to give the Legislature final say.
“This apparent contradiction occurs partly because 81 percent of those who oppose same-sex marriage want it left to voters, while proponents are far less likely to say voters need to make the decision,” noted Redlawsk. “A majority may like the outcome of the court ruling, but any time voters are asked if they should get a chance to decide an issue, they are very likely to say yes.”
New Jersey voters are split on whether same-sex marriage should be decided by individual states (44 percent) or by the federal government (47 per cent). Ten percent are unsure. Supporters prefer a federal role, while opponents say the issue should be decided state by state.
Results are from a poll of 799 registered voters conducted statewide by live callers with both landline and cell phone households from Oct. 7-13. The poll has a margin of error of +/- 3.5 percentage points.
Most voters did not want appeal to go forward
Nearly six in 10 voters agree with Superior Court Judge Mary Jacobson’s ruling allowing same-sex marriage to start today. One-third oppose the ruling, and 8 percent are undecided.
Support is widespread. Half of Christie’s re-election supporters favor the ruling, while 79 percent of state Sen. Barbara Buono’s voters back the decision. But while a 49 percent to 37 percent plurality of Republicans now supports marriage equality, only 41 percent agree with this particular court ruling. Besides self-identified conservative Republicans and evangelical and other highly religious New Jerseyans, other demographic groups support the court decision.
Slightly fewer (but still a majority) wanted Christie to abandon any appeal of the court’s ruling as he has now done. The state’s appeal garnered support only from those generally opposed to same-sex marriage – including Republicans, conservatives, born-again Christians and those who most frequently attend religious services. Older voters and shore county residents also wanted the appeal to continue. Still, half of Christie voters opposed the appeal.
“Many voters who wanted the appeal held out some hope that the judge would be overruled,” said Redlawsk. “But others see the Supreme Court as the final arbiter and, although happy with the judge’s ruling, wanted an appeal to affirm it. Gov. Christie obviously saw the writing on the wall in withdrawing the appeal; there was little chance he would win.”
Voters still want to make the decision
Voters seem to be contradictory. Although supporting the court ruling, voters also widely agree with the governor that they should decide on same-sex marriage. Virtually every group wants voters to make the decision, including more than half of the new law’s supporters and 70 percent of Christie voters. Even large majorities of those with a gay or lesbian family member, friend or co-worker want voters to decide.
Sixty percent of minority voters want the issue decided by voters, a clear disconnect from the marriage as a civil right not subject to vote position urged by many minority leaders.
Democrats and liberals are among the relatively few groups split on the question: 46 percent of Democrats want voters to decide, 32 percent favor a court decision and 16 percent prefer legislation. Liberals show a similar pattern, with 42 percent calling for a vote. The most educated respondents show less support for voting compared to other groups: 47 percent say voters should decide, 37 percent want a court decision and 12 percent prefer legislative action.
“Voters aren’t purposely contradictory,” said Redlawsk. “Perhaps, those who support same-sex marriage assume it would pass, which would reinforce other positive decisions. Opponents probably see voters as the only hope, since they have lost in the courts and Legislature. No matter what side they are on, an appeal to voters may seem like the best bet.”
For voters, same-sex marriage not a top issue
The new poll is mostly consistent with earlier polling on the issue. Last spring, a large majority of respondents wanted same-sex marriage on the ballot. Now, a plurality of Republicans supports the issue for the first time, 49 percent to 37 percent, with 13 percent undecided. Conservatives, however, oppose same-sex marriage by a 19-point margin. Democrats are strong supporters at 71 percent, while 58 percent of independents agree.
Most voters with a position on the issue have not changed their minds, but 20 percent have revised their opinion over time; 90 percent of those have become supporters.
Seventy-four percent of marriage equality supporters have “always” held that view, but a quarter of those have strengthened their position. This shift is especially apparent among Republicans and older voters, of whom over a third say they have changed their minds in support of same-sex marriage.
The vast majority of opponents – 91 percent – say they always have been against same-sex marriage, while only 7 percent say they have changed their minds and become opponents.
Most voters know someone who is gay or lesbian but same-sex marriage is not seen as a top priority. One quarter call it among their most important issues. Thirty-six percent see the issue as only somewhat important, while 37 percent say it is not important at all.
A large majority of same-sex marriage supporters say the issue is not that important: just 31 percent say it is among the top issues to them personally. Opponents are even less likely to see the issue as very important. Only 24 percent put it anywhere near the top. Those with a gay or lesbian family member (36 percent) or friend (31 percent) are more likely than most to say same-sex marriage is one of their most important issues.
Who decides, states or federal government?
Voters are split on whether states should decide individually on same-sex marriage or the federal government should decide for all states. Sixty-one percent of marriage-equality supporters prefer the federal government, while 68 percent of opponents want the issue settled state-by-state.
More than 60 percent of Democrats and liberals favor a federal decision. About half of women, middle-aged voters, the best-educated and more secular voters, and those who have a gay or lesbian family member, friend, or co-worker feel the same.
Republicans and conservatives strongly support individual state decisions, as do more than half of male voters. Independents favor letting states decide, 48 percent to 40 percent. Younger voters also lean this way, as do Catholics, Protestants and those who attend religious services more frequently.