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Behind the Numbers
Posted at 06:10 PM ET, 04/30/2009

On Gay Marriage, A Near Even Split

Support for legal gay marriage has increased dramatically over the past three years, and for the first time, those in favor outnumber those opposed, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll.

Nearly half (49 percent) of all Americans in the new poll said they favor legal marriage for same-sex couples, an increase of 13 percentage points since June 2006. But opposition to gay marriage remains widespread, 46 percent said it should be illegal in the new poll, and most in that camp feel strongly about it (overall 39 percent are that opposed).

Q. On another subject, do you think it should be legal or illegal for (gay and lesbian/homosexual)* couples to get married?

            Legal  Chg from  Strongly  Chg from
             NET     2006     legal      2006
All          49      +13       31         +7

Democrat     62      +18       43        +10
Republican   22       +4       14         +3
Independent  52       +9       30         +5

Liberal      71       +7       54         +7
Moderate     54      +16       31        +10
Conservative 30      +11       16         +4

Lib. Dem.    71       +9       57         +5
Con. Rep.    16       +3       10         +2

White Cath.  46      +13       27         +6
Wh. Ev/Prot  20      +11       11         +4

Non-college  45      +17       28        +10
College+     57      +13       38         +8

18-29        66      +12       45         +8
30-64        48      +12       29         +6
65+          28      +13       16         +8

Strong support for legal gay marriage has grown precipitously among Democrats (from 26 percent in 2004 to 33 percent in 2006 to 43 percent now) and overall support within the party has climbed nearly 20 points from 44 percent to 62 percent.

Among Republicans, about one in five support legal gay marriages (22 percent) with three-quarters opposed (74 percent), largely unchanged from 2006.

But there has been a shift among conservatives: Three in 10 said gay marriage should be legal, the highest proportion in Post-ABC polling, up from 19 percent in 2006, and strong opposition to the practice dipped from 72 percent in 2006 to 56 percent now. Conservative Republicans (83 percent oppose, 73 percent strongly) and white evangelical Protestants (75 percent oppose, 68 percent strongly) continue to be staunch opponents.

In the political middle, majorities of independents and moderates now support legal gay marriage (52 percent among independents and 54 percent of moderates) with about three in 10 in each group strongly in favor of legal same-sex marriages. Although overall opposition is lower (about four in 10 for each group), strong opposition is at about the same level as strong support.

White Catholics, a key swing block in presidential politics, have become markedly more liberal on the issue. In June 2006, 33 percent of white Catholics said it should be legal, 60 percent illegal, that has evened out to 46 percent legal, 47 percent illegal in the new poll.

Beyond political divides, there continues to be a significant age gap on the question, and although support for gay marriage among seniors has grown somewhat (15 percent said it should be legal in 2006 compared with 28 percent now) a whopping six in 10 remain strongly opposed to same-sex marriages. Among those under age 30, two-thirds (66 percent) support it generally; 45 percent in this age group strongly support the practice, 21 percent are strongly opposed.

As opinions have shifted, the education gap has narrowed on the issue. In 2006, 28 percent of those without a college degree said gay marriage should be legal, compared with 45 percent of those who had completed college, a 17-point divide. Now, the gap stands at 12, with 45 percent of non-college adults in favor of legal marriage with 57 percent of college grads in the same camp.

*2009 "gay and lesbian" and "homosexual" wordings half sampled. 2006 "homosexual".

By Jennifer Agiesta  |  06:10 PM ET, 04/30/2009

Categories:  Crosstabs, Crosstabs

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