Why gay marriage isn’t upstaging voting rights this week

June 25, 2013

All eyes are on the Supreme Court again Tuesday, when the justices could announce decisions in a pair of landmark gay marriage cases and a key voting rights case. While the gay marriage cases have received more widespread media coverage, Americans see the two issues with equal measures of intrigue, according to a new Pew Research Center poll.

Thirty-five percent of Americans say they are very interested in how the court will rule on the case involving the Voting Rights Act -- exactly the same percentage who say they are eyeing the cases involving gay marriage.

There are key differences across party identification and race in the way Americans view the cases. Democrats are much more interested than Republicans in the voting rights case. And blacks are much more interested than whites.

When it comes to gay marriage, whites show more interest than blacks. Along party lines, there is a pretty even split, with Republicans and Democrats equally interested in learning the court's decisions.

The Voting Rights Act cases involves the question of whether certain areas of the country with a history of racial discrimination must receive pre-clearance from the Justice Department or a federal court before changing voting laws. One of the gay marriage cases looks at California's gay marriage ban, while another looks at the federal Defense of Marriage Act.

Democrats and blacks expressed more interest than whites and Republicans in a case involving affirmative action, which was sent back to a lower court Monday.

Given that the Voting Rights Act and affirmative action were intended to address discrimination against African Americans and other minorities (who in general are much more closely aligned with the Democratic Party than the Republican Party), the lopsided interest in those areas makes sense.

Overall, just 13 percent of Americans said they are following the recent rulings and cases before the Supreme Court. What that suggests is the survey is a measure of Americans' interests rather than the way media coverage has shaped their views.

President Obama mentioned both voting rights and gay rights in his second inaugural address. Right now, Americans are showing equal interest on both fronts.

Scott Clement contributed to this post. Clement is a pollster with Capital Insight, the independent polling group of Washington Post Media.

Sean Sullivan has covered national politics for The Washington Post since 2012.
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