by Mike Andrew -
SGN Staff Writer
A new poll released May 30 shows that a large majority of Washington voters believe it should be legal for Gay and Lesbian couples to marry.
The poll, conducted by Strategies 360 (S360) for the Associated Press, found that 54% of those surveyed said same-sex marriage should be legal, while only 33% thought it should be illegal.
The numbers are essentially the same as those found by a similar poll done last September, pollsters said, and indicate that voters have already formed definite opinions on this issue.
'If you look at the poll we did in September 2011, the results are almost exactly the same,' S360's Vice President of Polling and Research Kevin Ingham told SGN.
'The implication is that opinion is starting to settle out on this. There's been a lot of discussion of President Obama's statement [supporting marriage equality], but it doesn't look like it's changed the numbers.'
In a statement posted on its website, Washington United for Marriage hailed the new poll as confirmation of public support for the campaign to Approve Referendum 74.
'This poll shows that an overwhelming majority of Washington voters agree that their Lesbian and Gay friends, co-workers, and family members should have the freedom to marry,' said Zach Silk, Washington United campaign manager.
Crunching the numbers
The latest S360 survey of 500 likely voters was conducted May 22-24, and has a 4.4% margin of error.
Support for legalizing Gay and Lesbian marriages carried across all demographics and all regions of the state. Only among self-identified Republicans did the idea fail to win support.
Support for marriage equality was particularly strong among women voters and among voters under 45.
Sixty-one percent of women favored legalizing same-sex marriages, with only 29% opposed. Among men the split was much closer, with 47% in favor and 38% opposed. Nevertheless, the nine-point spread among men indicates solid support for Gay and Lesbian marriages.
Many polls have indicated that support for marriage equality is the prevalent view among younger voters, and the S360 poll is no exception. Voters in the 18-34 age group approved legalizing same-sex marriage by a substantial 63%-26% margin, and in the 35-44 age group equality wins by a 64%-31% margin.
But the poll also shows marriage equality ahead among the oldest group of voters. Forty-four percent of voters over 65 said same-sex marriage should be legal, while 40% said it should be illegal.
Race and culture are sometimes assumed to be significant factors in forming opinions on same-sex marriage, but S360 found that both white voters and those of other racial groups said same-sex marriages should be legal.
Among white voters, 56% said same-sex marriages should be legal and only 32% said they should be illegal.
Although S360 did not separate out data for different communities of color, respondents in the 'all other' category supported legalizing same-sex marriages by a 13-point margin, 50% in favor and 37% opposed.
Geographically, the North Sound region showed the highest level of support for same-sex marriages. Sixty-four percent of voters in this region support legalizing Gay and Lesbian marriages with only 23% opposed - a 41-point spread.
In King County, the margin was 60%-30%, and even in Eastern Washington, 44% agreed that same-sex marriage should be legal, with 41% opposed.
Of all the groups identified by S360 in their report, only Republicans rejected marriage equality - by a 39-point margin. Only 22% of self-identified Republicans said same-sex marriage should be legal, as opposed to 61% who thought it should be illegal.
Democrats showed an even greater margin in favor of marriage equality - a whopping 80 points, 87%-7%. Independents favored equality by a 52%-36% margin.
What does this mean for Referendum 74?
A PPP poll released in February asked specifically if voters planned to vote to approve Referendum 74, which the S360 poll did not ask.
PPP found a much narrower margin of support for marriage equality, with 54% saying they would vote to approve Washington's Marriage Equality Act, and 46% saying they would vote against it.
Among poll watchers, it is well known that how a question is asked can influence how respondents answer. Some observers have speculated that asking the 'legal or illegal' question could imply a possible legal penalty for same-sex couples - which even some opponents of equality would not support - and therefore skew the results in favor of legalizing same-sex marriage.
Ingham told SGN that he was aware of the issue, but S360 deliberately decided not to ask about Referendum 74.
'That's not the question we wanted to ask,' S360's Ingham explained. 'We took the question right off a national poll, because we wanted to be able to compare the results across several states.'
Asked if the Approve Referendum 74 campaign was concerned that the poll results might be misleading because of S360's approach, campaign manager Silk replied 'No, not at all.'
'The basic question is whether or not people support marriage for all committed couples and the answer was a resounding 'yes,' Silk told SGN.
'That's an important baseline and terrific confirmation that what we hear when we talk to people about marriage is captured in an independent poll.'
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