November 1, 2011

Public Attitudes Toward Social Issues

46 to 45

Americans are now almost evenly divided on the question of legalizing same-sex marriage. Opposition to same-sex marriage has fallen from 65% in 1996 to 46% in 2011 while 45% favor legalizing it.

Public support for gay marriage continues to edge upward. About as many adults now favor (45%) as oppose (46%) allowing gays and lesbians to marry legally, according to a Pew Research Center poll conducted Feb. 22-Mar. 1. Last year, opponents outnumbered supporters 48% to 42%. Opposition to same-sex marriage has declined by 19 percentage points since 1996, when 65% of people opposed gay marriage and only 27% were in favor.

Majorities of the public now support same-sex marriage in the Northeast (59% in favor) and the West (56%). In many states in those regions, efforts to legalize same-sex marriage are underway or have already succeeded. By contrast, support is much lower in the Midwest (40% favor) and the South (34%).

As has been the case since 1996, there is a wide partisan gap on the question of same-sex marriage. Currently 57% of Democrats favor legalizing it, while only 23% of Republicans hold this view. Independents (51% in favor) align closer to Democrats than to Republicans on the question of legalizing same sex marriage. This gap can be partly attributed to the fact that 58% of independents who lean Democratic support gay marriage while just 46% of Republican-leaning independents do so.

While Republicans are strongly united on the issue, the Pew Research Center <a href="http://www.people-press.org/2011/05/04/section-8-domestic-issues-and-social-policy/?src=prc-number "political typology study found Democrats to be divided. Eighty-five percent of Democrats who describe themselves as Solid Liberals support same-sex marriage. But 57% of Hard-Pressed Democrats – a group which is largely blue-collar, socially conservative and very religious — oppose making it legal. Fifty-one percent of new Coalition Democrats, another socially conservative and highly religious group, are also in opposition. Read More