Poll shows slim majority opposes Prop 8
by Seth Hemmelgarn
Just two days after the state Supreme Court ruled that Proposition 8 would remain on the November ballot, a new statewide survey indicates that 51 percent of likely voters intend to vote no on the initiative.
The Field Poll, released July 18, also showed 42 percent would vote yes, while only 7 percent were undecided. Along with the promising numbers of those opposed to Prop 8, the survey also indicates there's still work to be done.
This is the second Field Poll since late May that has shown a slim majority of Californians support same-sex marriage.
"It's another encouraging indicator that we can defeat this attack on our families and the constitution in California," said Evan Wolfson, executive director of the national group Freedom to Marry.
"The only thing that worries me is that anybody feels any complacency or believes that someone else will take care of the whole thing," Wolfson said. "The scale of the campaign, the amount of money needed and the sheer size of California mean that we need all hands on deck and we each must do our personal part."
Interviews for the Field Poll survey of 672 likely voters were conducted July 8-14. The overall sampling error is plus or minus 3.9 percentage points.
Sixty-three percent of Democrats said they would vote no on the measure, which would amend the state's constitution to ban same-sex marriages, while 68 percent of Republicans indicated they would vote yes. Sixty-six percent of nonpartisans said they would vote no.
"Opinions are very partisan on this," said Mark DiCamillo, director of the Field Poll, which is an independent, media-sponsored public opinion news service. DiCamillo said nonpartisans are "a pivotal group" and their being heavily on the no side is one reason the statewide majority is against Prop 8.
There are big differences regionally. Fifty-six percent of voters living in California's coastal counties – which contain 69 percent of all likely voters – oppose Prop 8.
In the Bay Area, 67 percent of likely voters oppose the measure while 26 percent support it. In Los Angeles County, the split is narrower: 51 percent oppose it while 41 percent are in support.
But in the state's inland counties, more than half of likely voters would vote for the measure.
In the Central Valley, for example, 54 percent of likely voters support Prop 8.
Bethany Holden-Soto and her wife, Cynthia, were the first same-sex couple to get their marriage license in Modesto, and both are working to defeat Prop 8. Cynthia Holden-Soto said everyone in the clerk-recorder's office stood up and cheered when they got their license.
But not everyone has been supportive. The couple has received hate mail at their home with references to the sin of homosexuality and the damage to children, Beth Holden-Soto said.
Still, she said, "I think people here are pretty fair-minded ... even really conservative people are agreeing that changing the constitution would not be the right thing to do. Even though they don't personally agree with my marriage, they're polite and still offer congratulations."
Beth Holden-Soto said she also hopes to get more people to register to vote, since a lot of people that she talks to who support same-sex marriage are "the same people that don't vote. They're not registered."
Fifty-four percent of white non-Hispanics, and blacks and Asians, oppose the measure, while 41 percent of both groups support it. DiCamillo said that the sample of likely black voters was so small they had to be added to Asians.
By contrast, Latinos support Prop 8 by 49 percent, while 38 percent oppose the measure.
Thirteen percent of Latinos are undecided, making them the minority group with the highest proportion of undecided voters in the state.
The proportions of undecided voters are relatively small – 7 percent – for being three and a half months before the election, DiCamillo said.
"Efforts to change people's minds are a little more difficult on something like this," he said.
But Stephanie Stolte said, "We're getting increasing numbers of people who are changing their minds about this issue when they become educated about what it means to deny gay and lesbian couples the freedom to marry."
Stolte is with the Unitarian Universalist Legislative Ministry Action Network, a group that is part of Equality for All, the coalition leading efforts to defeat Prop 8.
"There are people who say they have made up their minds, but they've made up their minds without having a real full, in-depth conversation about the issue. When people have that kind of conversation, they often change their mind," Stolte said.
Statewide, 62 percent of likely voters reported they had heard or seen something about Prop 8.
"There is a lot of awareness on this measure," DiCamillo said. He said that fact, combined with the low proportion of undecided voters, tells him, "Voters have opinions about this even before we called them."
Opponents of Prop 8 have stressed the importance of LGBT visibility, and the survey shows a majority – 54 percent – of people who know or work with someone gay or lesbian oppose the measure.
One of the factors working in favor of same-sex marriage is that "more people know people who are gays and lesbians ... that familiarity tends to erase some misgivings," DiCamillo said.
Still, 40 percent of people who know someone who is gay or lesbian would support Prop 8.
Statewide, almost three out of four likely voters reported knowing or working with someone gay or lesbian.
Baby boomers – people age 50 to 64 – are the age group with the strongest opposition to Prop 8, at 57 percent. Thirty-eight percent support the measure. As the report notes, voters in other age groups are more evenly divided.
"Some older voters are more reticent about changing the constitution of California on any issue," even if they're not that accepting of same-sex marriage, DiCamillo said.
According to a Field Poll news release, results of its May 28 poll marked the first time in over three decades of polling on same-sex marriage laws that more of the state's voters approved than disapproved of allowing same-sex couples the right to marry and having regular marriage laws apply to them.
However, on its Web site, ProtectMarriage.com – one of the groups behind Prop 8 – said the July poll results show support for the measure is up, while opposition has decreased.
A table published with the May Field Poll results under the heading "Do you favor or oppose changing the California State Constitution to define marriage as between a man and a woman, thus barring marriage between gay and lesbian couples?" showed that 54 percent of registered voters statewide opposed this, while 40 percent were in favor. The margin of error was plus or minus 4 percentage points.
Also, Prop 8 spokeswoman Jennifer Kerns wrote in an e-mail to the Bay Area Reporter that " The Field has historically understated the support for this issue by approximately 10 percentage points."
For example, she pointed to Field Polls released before the vote on Prop 22, which won with 61 percent in March 2000. That measure, which holds that "only marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized in California," is part of the state's family code, not the state constitution.
An October 1999 Field Poll indicated 50 percent of likely voters were inclined to vote for Prop 22, while a February 2000 poll indicated 53 percent in favor.
Kerns also noted that the Los Angeles Times and KTLA released survey data in May this year that showed 54 percent of registered voters statewide would vote for a Prop 8-type amendment. That survey had a margin of error of plus or minus 4 percentage points.
But in an e-mail to the B.A.R., DiCamillo said that the May Field Poll didn't specifically ask registered voters how they would vote on Prop 8, because it hadn't yet qualified for the ballot. Plus, the May Field survey was a survey of registered voters, rather than likely voters in the November general election.
He wrote, "Because of this, there are no previous Field Poll pre-election surveys of California likely voters that can directly be compared to the latest July Field Poll. The Field Poll will be tracking likely voter preferences on Prop 8 in future surveys and these will be compared to our July measure."
DiCamillo said the next poll on the topic would probably be in September.