Republicans need to pay attention to this poll on gay marriage in South Carolina

November 4, 2013

There's a fascinating new poll number out of South Carolina that tells you everything you need to know about where the politics of same-sex marriage in the country are headed and why Republicans need to be very careful with how they handle the issue in the coming years.


WASHINGTON, DC - OCTOBER 12: Tibby Middleton, left, and Barbara Kenny, right, a gay couple together for 47 years, join hands finally partake in a legal marriage ceremony celebrated by Rev. Dr. Carl Gregg, center, on October, 12, 2013 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Bill O'Leary/The Washington Post)

The number is 52 percent -- as in the percentage of  South Carolinians who believe that marriages between same-sex couples should not be recognized under law, according to a new Winthrop University poll conducted for The State newspaper. But, consider this: In 2006, the Palmetto State passed a constitutional amendment outlawing gay marriage with 78 percent of the vote. (Always worth noting: A single poll is just that.)

That movement toward support of same-sex marriage mirrors a broader national trend in which not only are younger people more and more tolerant of gay marriage but within each generation people have been growing more and more tolerant toward it in recent years. (In a Washington Post-ABC News poll conducted earlier this year, a majority of Republicans aged 18 to 49 supported gay marriage.) And, it also follows movement within the walls of official Washington -- most recently with Nevada Sen. Dean Heller (R) coming out in support of the Employee Discrimination Act (ENDA).

But, that such movement is happening in a state like South Carolina is both remarkable and politically telling. Remember that Mitt Romney won 55 percent in the 2012 presidential election and John McCain took 54 percent four years earlier. South Carolina has a Republican governor, a Republican controlled state legislature and two Republican senators, and six of its seven U.S. House seats are held by Republicans. The last Democrat to win South Carolina at the presidential level was Jimmy Carter in 1976.

Republicans, particularly those with an eye on a future national bid in 2016 or beyond, would do well to take note of the movement on gay marriage in South Carolina. While a Republican primary electorate -- like, say, for the state's first-in-the-South presidential primary in 2016 --  will still likely be strongly opposed to gay marriage, the simple fact is that the movement on the issue is all in one direction. And, for a party that currently finds itself struggling to build a national coalition in future presidential elections, this poll should be a wake-up call.

Chris Cillizza writes “The Fix,” a politics blog for the Washington Post. He also covers the White House.
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Aaron Blake · November 4, 2013