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Same-Sex Marriage Supporters Now Mainstream

April 24, 2011

                                (From Nate Silver and the New York Times)

For the past few weeks I’ve been trying to come up with a framework in which to talk about the new polling data related to equitable marriage. Since I’m clearly no Nate Silver and raw numbers tend to bore not exhilarate me. What those results combined with other indicators of public opinion could mean for messaging in 2012 does.

To fully understand how and why talk of gay marriage may change dramatically (and what could happen if it does) I’ll provide a bit of background on polling data both from CNN’s most recent poll on same-sex marriage, some historical knowledge on the subject, and my own speculation on what this means moving forward for the GOP field.

Earlier this month a CNN poll conducted showed opponents to same-sex marriage in the minority (with 47 percent) and gay marriage supporters leading public opinion (at 51percent) for the first time in history. And it’s not the only source to report such findings. Over the past yearfour other credible scientific polls have shown that a majority of Americans favor same-sex marriage.

Looking at data patterns since 1988 (which Nate Silver at the New York Times sourced) it’s clear that although popular opinion has mostly been on the rise since the ’80s it’s never been as quickly changing as during the last two. When looking at Nate Silver’s trend analysis graph it’s clear that the four percent shift in favor is an aggressive change when you consider the historic rate of change is generally 1 or 2 percentage points per year.

Since public opinion changes so quickly and because most GOP candidates will be focusing on rallying the base until at least early 2012 I’m not sure if this obvious change in public opinion will do much to change the debate, but it might. During the primary season independents and leaning voters are key and they happen to be the most likely ‘types’ of voters to have a favorable or fairly neutral opinion on the matter. Big speeches against marriage equality could prove harmful—and most likely will if the current birther mania is anything to go from.

The Republican talking points on the issue may also prove harmful if not in 2012 than in ’14 and ’16 – because it’s not simply polling data that’s showcasing a trend it’s the other indicators that are most convincing. In late February the Obama Administration said it would no longer defend the Defense of Marriage Act because it considers the legislation to be unconstitutional. The decision was met with very little political or public backlash and though some have claimed it was a strictly political move—no one can say it wasn’t a win for gay rights advocates.

Other societal indicators such as Facebook adding civil unions and domestic partnerships as relationship statuses adds a more cultural look at the debate. Two of the most popular network television shows (Glee and Grey’s Anatomy) have established gay characters and relationships. The ‘It Get’s Better‘ campaign become as much of a trend for some as ‘going green’ was. Messaging that focuses on the ‘other-ness’ of same-sex couples and gay Americans might work when working the Bible-belt, but it doesn’t necessarily translate outside of that arena.

While trends in same-sex marriage don’t mean the end of the debate, but they do show that much of the talk surrounding it may be in need of re-shaping. 

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