July 18, 2008
The first California statewide poll to directly measure public opinion about Proposition 8 — the so-called California Marriage Protection (CaMP) Act, a proposed constitutional amendment that would ban marriage equality — suggests the ballot measure is in serious trouble.
As reported at ProtectMarriageEquality.com, a Field Poll commissioned by Oakland’s KTVU-TV found that the marriage ban is supported by only 42% of Californians, while 51% oppose it. The remaining 7% are undecided.
Consistent with previous polls by the LA Times and the Field Research Corporation, the new survey found that support for the amendment is strongest in California’s politically conservative Central Valley, where it is favored by 54%. By contrast, coastal residents — who constitute 69% of the population of likely voters — oppose it by a margin of 56% to 37%. The percentages against Prop. 8 were 67% in the San Francisco Bay Area and 51% in Los Angeles County.
Republicans overwhelmingly support the amendment by a margin of 68% to 27%, while Democrats oppose it 63% to 30%. Notably, Independents oppose it 66% to 27%.
Proposition 8 is opposed by a majority of women (54%, versus 40% who support it) and a plurality of men (49% to 45%).
The only ethnic group tending to support the amendment is Latinos, who favor it by a 49% to 38% plurality. However, 13% of Latinos are still undecided. Non-Hispanic Whites, African Americans, and Asian-Americans all oppose Proposition 8.
The amendment is supported by a plurality of Californians who say they don’t personally know anyone who is gay or lesbian. However, that group constitutes only one fourth of the respondents. Those who know or work with a gay or lesbian person oppose the amendment 54% to 40%.
Good News for Equality Supporters
The poll numbers offer a double dose of hope for supporters of marriage equality. Not only do the data indicate that the ballot proposition is currently losing outright, they also suggest that its prospects for gaining support during the coming months may be dim.
In a previous post about an earlier LA Times poll (which was conducted before marriages of same-sex couples actually began in California and which found slight majority support for a hypothetical ballot measure), I quoted the Times‘ observation that:
“…[B]allot measures on controversial topics often lose support during the course of a campaign” and, for this reason, “strategists typically want to start out well above the 50% support level.” According to Susan Pinkus, the Times Poll Director, “Although the amendment to reinstate the ban on same-sex marriage is winning by a small majority, this may not bode well for the measure.”
Thus, the measure’s lack of majority support now — less than 4 months before the election — indicates that the Christian conservatives who propose to write marriage inequality into the California constitution have their work cut out for them.
Reasons for Caution
Although the poll results are good news for equality supporters, it would be a mistake to take victory in November for granted for at least three reasons.
First, we’ll need data from more surveys with comparable samples to be sure that the Field Poll results accurately describe California opinion at this time.
Second, although it is indeed a hopeful sign that the amendment lacks majority support at this point in the campaign, many things can happen between now and the November election that might shift voters’ opinions.
Third, past experience indicates that polls may understate the true opposition to marriage equality among the California electorate. In 2000, the final Field Poll before the election indicated that 53% of likely voters supported Proposition 22, the anti-equality Knight Initiative that the California Supreme Court recently ruled unconstitutional. On election day, 61% voted for it.
Thus, the new poll should invigorate supporters of marriage equality in California. But it shouldn’t make them complacent.
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The KTVU/Field Poll data were obtained through telephone interviews conducted in English and Spanish with a random sample of 672 California likely voters from July 8-14. The margin of error for the question about Proposition 8 is 3.9 percentage points.
Poll respondents were asked the following question: “Proposition 8 is the ‘Limit on Marriage Constitutional Amendment.’ It amends the California constitution to provide that only marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized in California. If the election were being held today, would you vote YES or NO on Proposition 8, the Limit on Marriage Constitutional Amendment?”
The full report is available at the Field Poll website.
Note: This entry has been updated to include additional details about the survey that were released subsequent to its initial posting.