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Support For Same-Sex Marriage Isn’t Unanimous

Welcome to Pollapalooza, our weekly polling roundup.

Poll of the week

A majority of conservative Republicans (58 percent), Republicans overall (51 percent), Mormons (53 percent), white evangelical Protestants (58 percent) and adults in Alabama (51 percent) oppose same-sex marriage, according to a survey released this week by the Public Religion Research Institute.

The PRRI survey, which relied on more than 40,000 interviews nationwide conducted in 2017, made a lot of headlines for finding substantial gains in the number of Americans who support same-sex marriage over the past few years. Overall, 61 percent of Americans say gay and lesbian couples should be legally allowed to marry, compared with 52 percent in a 2013 survey conducted by PRRI and the Brookings Institution. Only 30 percent are opposed to legal same-sex marriage, while the other 9 percent said they didn’t know or declined to give an answer.

A majority of black people (52 percent), Hispanics (61 percent) and white people (63 percent) back same-sex marriage. The majority of people in all but six states support it. And even in those six states — Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, Tennessee and West Virginia — only in Alabama are opponents an outright majority.

So the headlines touting the widening acceptance of same-sex marriage weren’t wrong. The U.S. Supreme Court’s 2015 decision declaring same-sex marriage a constitutional right essentially ended the legal debate over this issue. And it has largely receded from electoral politics too.1

But I think it’s worth looking closely at the 39 percent of Americans who don’t support same-sex marriage, including the 30 percent who outright oppose it. That group really matters because it includes a majority bloc in the Republican Party, which dominates U.S. politics nationally and in many states. They haven’t exactly given up on this issue — the question of same-sex marriage itself has become less of a political football, but LGBT rights more generally may be taking its place.

First, a big part of President Trump’s appeals to Republican activists in his 2016 campaign, particularly when he spoke to conservative Christians, was that he would pick consistently conservative Supreme Court justices. This was meant to signal justices unlike Anthony Kennedy, the Republican appointee who angered conservatives by not only providing the fifth vote in the 2015 case invalidating bans on same-sex unions but also writing the majority opinion. Some Republican senators think it could help the party politically, ahead of this fall’s elections, if Kennedy retires and Trump picks a strong conservative to replace him. That could motivate the party base’s around making sure that the Supreme Court is not issuing opinions out of line with conservative values.

Conservative Republicans are expressing their wariness about LGBT rights in other ways, from Trump’s proposals to limit transgender soldiers from serving in the military to a proposal in the Kansas legislature that would allow faith-based adoption agencies in the state to not place foster children in the homes of same-sex couples.

PRRI also asked Americans whether they support small businesses being able to deny services to gay or lesbian people if doing so would conflict with the business owner’s religious beliefs. Overall, 33 percent of Americans support that idea, while 60 percent oppose it. The majority of conservative Republicans (59 percent), Republicans overall (52 percent), Mormons (53 percent) and white evangelical Protestants (53 percent) support such religious-based denials of services.

It’s not the case, however, that opposition to gay marriage is now limited to only a few demographic, regional or political groups. The PPRI survey found some opposition from geographic areas and parts of the electorate that you might expect to more strongly back same-sex unions. In California, Illinois and Maryland — all deep-blue states — about a quarter of people oppose same-sex marriage, as do 39 percent of blacks and 40 percent of conservative Democrats. This issue may also help explain the growing generational gap in U.S. politics, with older voters trending toward the GOP while youngers ones lean Democratic. Among Americans ages 18 to 29, 77 percent support same-sex marriage, compared with just 47 percent of those 65 and older.

In short, the legal debate over same-sex marriage is over. But questions about the cultural and political acceptance of same-sex marriage and other LGBT rights endure.

Other polling nuggets

  • New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo has a 50 percent to 28 percent lead over actress and activist Cynthia Nixon ahead of the Sept. 13 Democratic primary, according to a new Quinnipiac University poll.
  • Twenty-two percent of Americans consider the news media “the enemy of the people,” compared with 66 percent who view it as an “important part of democracy,” according to another Quinnipiac poll. But 51 percent of Republicans view media as the enemy, compared with 37 percent who consider it part of a democracy.
  • In a new Monmouth University poll, 39 percent of Americans said Trump “should be impeached and compelled to leave the presidency,” while 56 percent of Americans disagreed with that view. Sixty-eight percent of Democrats supported impeachment, compared to 24 percent who did not. (The Quinnipiac poll found basically the same thing.)
  • In that same Monmouth survey, 54 percent of Americans said the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election and “possible links” with the Trump campaign should continue, while 43 percent of Americans said it should end. Just 18 percent of Republicans want the investigation to continue, while 78 percent want it to end. (Democrats are basically the reverse.)
  • Thirty-four percent of Republicans have a favorable view of Kanye West, according to a new Huffington Post/YouGov poll, up from 11 percent in 2015. His disapproval rating among Republicans — 74 percent three years ago — is down to 43 percent. (I assume because of his recent favorable comments about Trump.) The rapper’s numbers among Democrats were already low and now have dipped even more. He had a net favorability of -47 among Democrats in 2015, and is now down to -56.
  • That YouGov poll also found that 35 percent of Americans believe celebrities should publicize their personal beliefs, while 36 percent said they should not and 29 percent are not sure. There is, as always, a partisan split: 58 percent of Democrats back celebrities talking about their political stances, while 58 percent of Republicans oppose celebs talking about their views in public.
  • Forty-five percent of Americans have a favorable view of French President Emmanuel Macron and 43 percent of German Chancellor Angela Merkel, according to a new YouGov poll, putting both ahead of Trump (39 percent favorable) in the survey.
  • Alabama Republican Kay Ivey, who became the state’s governor last year after scandal-plagued Robert Bentley resigned, is far ahead of her GOP rivals in the June 5 gubernatorial primary, according to a Leverage Public Strategies — Alabama Daily News survey. Ivey is at 47 percent, with her top challenger, Huntsville Mayor Tommy Battle, at 11 percent.

Trump’s approval rating

Trump’s job approval rating is 41.3 percent; his disapproval rating is 52.5 percent. Trump’s net rating (-12 percentage points) is slightly better than this time last month, when it was -14 (40.3 approval, 53.8 disapproval).

The generic ballot

The Democrats hold a 47.2 percent to 40.2 percent advantage on the generic congressional ballot this week. This time last month, the Democrats led by 8 percentage points.


  1. George W. Bush proposed a constitutional amendment to prevent same-sex marriages during his 2004 presidential campaign, but few Republican politicians would take such a vocal position against gay marriage today.

Perry Bacon Jr. was a senior writer for FiveThirtyEight.