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FiveThirtyEight

Politics

A landmark of sorts was achieved today as CNN just came out with a poll showing a 52 percent majority of Americans agreed with the statement that “gays and lesbians should have a constitutional right to get married and have their marriage recognized by law as valid.” Some 46 percent of respondents disagreed with the statement.

CNN also asked the question in a slightly different way to half its respondents, omitting the term “should” from the question above, i.e. “Do you think gays and lesbians have a constitutional right to get married and have their marriage recognized by law as valid?”. Using that phrasing, 49 percent said yes and 51 percent said no.

Combining the two subsamples has 50.5 percent of Americans in support of gay marriage and 47.5 percent opposed: just about the barest possible majority. But a majority nevertheless, something that no previous poll had shown. An ABC/Washington Post poll from April 2009 had come the closest, showing a 49/46 plurality in support of gay marriage rights; a few other polls had also shown gay marriage to the plurality position when respondents were given a three-way choice of marriage, civil unions, and no legal recognition. But no national poll, save for one debatable case with highly unorthodox phrasing, had shown it to the the majority position.

Polls, of course, have a margin of error, and needless to say it is not yet safe to say that support for marriage equity has become the plurality, let alone the majority, position. At the same time, it is probably also no longer safe to say that opposition to same-sex marriage is the majority position, and it is becoming dubious to call it the plurality position. Opinion on the issue, instead, is close to evenly divided, with results varying somewhat depending on things like question wording. It may be noteworthy that CNN tends to find slightly higher levels of support for gay marriage with a question that is explicitly framed around constitutional rights, echoing arguments that are very much at the center of the ongoing legal case against California Proposition 8.

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