The conventional wisdom is that the growing acceptance of marriage equality is being driven by overwhelming support from the next generation. But a report to be released tomorrow by the centrist think tank Third Way will blow that assumption up. Turns out it’s not a generational shift at work, but a change of heart.

“One often-cited reason for the change is that younger voters with more accepting views are replacing older voters in the population,” Lanae Erickson of Third Way and Gregory B. Lewis of Georgia State University write. “The more important reason, though, is that Americans in every demographic, political, and religious group across the country are changing their minds on this issue.”

To be more specific, Lewis and Erickson found that since 2004 there has been a 16-point jump in support for same-sex marriage. And they say there were major shifts across every demographic group. Their key finding: “Only one-quarter of the increase in support is due to younger voters replacing older voters in the population; 75 percent of that growth has come from people changing their minds.” They reached this conclusion by combing through data in 98 surveys with more than 128,000 responses between 2004 and 2011.

(Third Way)

Between 2004 and 2011, support for marriage across the country went up 16 points: from 30% to 46%. But among people born within the same year, support rose 12 points during the same time period. This means that a quarter of the total change was due to replacement of older voters by a younger generation, but a full 75% of the shift was due to Americans changing their mind on the issue of marriage.


Majorities favor marriage equality in every region, except the South and the Mountain West. But with support at 46.1 percent and 48.6 percent, respectively, those two areas aren’t far behind. The Mountain West saw the biggest gain in support with a 19.3 percent swing between 2004 and 2011. The South saw an 18.1 percent swing, just 0.6 percent behind that of the hyper-tolerant East.

(Third Way)

The chart showing the changes in support by religion is noteworthy. In 2004, the only religious folks to give majority backing to same-sex marriage were Jewish (65.1 percent). By 2011, Jewish support had jumped to 74.1 percent, making that group the biggest supporters of marriage equality. The largest increase (18.6 percent) was among mainline Protestants, 50.8 percent of whom now favor marriage equality. That’s 1.2 percent less than Catholics, who have been leading the way on the change for a while.

So, securing the freedom to marry isn’t dependent upon old people dying off. It’s about changing hearts and minds among the living. We marveled at President Obama’s announcement that he had “evolved” on the issue. This report from Third Way proves it wasn’t a solitary endeavor.