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October 19, 2012

Poll shows 52% of Ohioans back marriage

Columbus--Ohioans now support full marriage equality 52 percent to 37 percent, according to a poll conducted in September by the Washington Post.

Eight years ago, the numbers were very different. In 2004, 62 percent of Ohio voters limited marriage to opposite-sex couples by passing an anti-marriage amendment to the state constitution.

The new support for marriage is also reflected in polls the Post took in Florida and Virginia.

In Florida, 54 percent responded in favor of same-sex marriage, while just under half of Virginians polled favor same-sex marriage, up from 43 percent in 2006.

However, polls consistently under-represent anti-gay sentiment with ballot issues. That undercount has hovered around seven percent in the last few years, as was seen when North Carolina passed the nation’s 31st state marriage ban amendment earlier this year.

Pre-election polls put support for the amendment at 55 percent, but it received 61 percent of the actual vote.

Traditional wisdom is that people do not want to seem anti-gay to pollsters, or the ballot language confuses them when they get to the voting booth. But a study by New York University political science professor Patrick Egan, which looked at 32 same-sex ballot measures across the country, found that neither explanation held up.

Prof. Stephen Frank of St. Cloud State University in Minnesota posits that it might boil down to “voter intensity.” Anti-gay voters might be more likely to follow up their poll responses with actual votes at the ballot box.

“Certain groups--for example, anti-abortion people and, I suspect, the anti-gay marriage people--are more likely to follow through,” he told Politics in Minnesota’s Paul Demko. “I still think there might be a little tiny bit of social desirability, but I think it’s more in terms of salience, intensity and follow-through on the part of those who are opposed to gay marriage.”

Regardless of the causes of this effect, it is something that Freedom to Marry and Religious Freedom in Ohio, which is backing an effort to put a pro-marriage amendment before voters, will have to consider as they continue to gather signatures, educate voters, and decide when to send it to the ballot.

“A growing majority of Ohio voters support the Freedom to Marry and Religious Freedom amendment that allows a loving and committed couple to have the right to marry so they can better care for and take care of their family,” said co-founder Ian James of Columbus. “The Washington Post poll reinforces what we have already seen in other polls. This is not an anomaly. This is another indicator the time is right and Ohioans are more fully understanding that marriage equality is a civil right whose time has come.”

Next June, the Freedom Ohio executive board will decide whether it should put the amendment to voters in the November 2013 election. Because mostly local candidates and issues will be on that ballot, it will avoid much of the federal campaign efforts around same-sex marriage. The 2004 election’s eleven state marriage ban amendments were partly an effort to get George W. Bush reelected by bringing out conservative supporters.

“We will continue to have a positive dialogue with Ohio voters to explain why marriage equality matters at the same time our volunteers step up their efforts to collect signatures and identify our supporters in every precinct in the state,” James concluded.

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