A Rutgers-Eagleton Poll released this week has found that a majority of New Jersey voters support legalizing same-sex marriage, with 52% in favor, 32% against and 16% undecided. However, given the choice between civil unions and same-sex marriage, 58% said they support civil unions.
There has been a significant drop in the margin opposing same-sex marriage over the past two years however, say pollsters:
“We were surprised by the margin favoring gay marriage, which is much greater than previously reported,” said David Redlawsk, director of the Rutgers-Eagleton Poll and professor of political science at Rutgers. “While the number of supporters has grown only a little, the number directly opposing gay marriage has fallen significantly. At the same time, more people say they are unsure or refuse to answer the question. These may be voters who are uncomfortable with gay marriage but who don’t want to express direct opposition, suggesting support is not as lopsided as it appears.”
The Rutgers-Eagleton Poll surveyed 615 registered voters by both landline and cell phone from Aug. 9 – 15. There is a margin of error for the full sample of +/- 3.9 percentage points.
As is commonly found, women are more likely to support same-sex marriage when compared to men at 58% to 47%, with strong support among Millennial generation voters at 77%. As is the established pattern seen nationally, support tapers off to 35% among the over 65s.
Again, there is a familiar split when it comes to political affiliation with 61% of Democratic party supporters in favor, while 58% of identified independent voters saying they support same-sex marriage. However, 51% of Republicans reported opposing same-sex marriage. When asked to identity as “liberals,” “moderates,” and “conservatives,” there was again a familiar trend with 83%, 56% and 18% respectively saying the favor same-sex marriage. However, only 62% of self-identifying conservatives said they are opposed which leaves a big chunk in the “don’t know” category. This is something that caught the eye of researchers:
“We see an interesting pattern, with Republicans and Conservatives much more likely to say ‘don’t know’ to the gay marriage question,” noted Redlawsk. “This suggests either some measure of uncertainty and changing attitudes by these voters, or perhaps reluctance to express a negative view in a state known for support of gay rights.”
Religion also played a factor in support with Catholics favoring same-sex marriage slightly more than Protestants, but how frequently respondents attend religious services being a stronger indicator than particular religious affiliation, with those who attend services more frequently less likely to support same-sex marriage.
Support was also shown to increase in proportion to levels of education. A 46% margin of those with a high school level of education or less said they supported same-sex marriage, while 62% of respondents who attended graduate school said they supported marriage equality.
Interestingly, 73% of respondents said that New York’s recent legalization of same-sex marriage had no effect whatsoever on their views.
NEXT PAGE: Civil Unions Get Greater Support
When asked about civil unions, support was much stronger with a majority in every age group saying they backed civil unions as an alternative to same-sex marriage, the breakdown being: 57% of 18 to 29 year-olds, 56% of 30 to 49 year-olds, 61% of 50 to 64 year-olds and 52% of those 65 and over.
This increase was again repeated across political affiliation with support at 58% among Democrats, 57% among independents, and 55% among Republicans.
“These results suggest that support for gay marriage itself is not as deep or broad as might be assumed by looking at New Jersey polls,” said Redlawsk. “What New Jersey voters do support is legal recognition of same-sex relationships. For many, if not most, civil unions fit the bill just fine as an alternative to gay marriage.”
A quarter of gay marriage supporters said they opposed civil unions as an alternative to marriage, with Democrats, liberals and younger voters much more likely to favor same-sex marriage over civil unions.
“Opposition to civil unions comes from both ends of the spectrum,” said Redlawsk. “For some, any form of legal recognition of same-sex partners is unacceptable. For others, marriage is the only alternative they support. But most New Jerseyans fall in the middle.”
Only 2% of voters said they thought same-sex marriage was the most important issue the state faces, while 13% said that it is one of a few important issues. A 36% group said that legalizing gay marriage is “somewhat important” to them while 46% said that it is not important at all. This general level of apathy on the issue spreads across political affiliation but with the established pattern of more Democrats saying it is an important issue (23%) and fewer Republicans (9%).
Noteworthy, though, is the fact that 32% of New Jersey voters say the have gay or lesbian family members and 66% say they have gay and lesbian friends. Among those with gay or lesbian family members there is a 16% increase in support above that of the general population, yet only 18% of those with gay or lesbian friends or family members said that legalization of gay marriage is the most important issue or one of a few very important issues facing the state.
“Most voters are comfortable with the status-quo – legal civil unions – even if they say they support gay marriage,” said Redlawsk. “There seems to be little likelihood of changing the situation in New Jersey.”
The New Jersey Legislature passed a bill providing for civil unions and recognizing other states’ civil unions in 2006 following a court ruling that the state’s domestic partnership law failed to offer adequate benefits. That same charge has been made by equality proponents against the civil unions law, an opinion that has been backed by the New Jersey State Bar Association and the Civil Union Review Commission created by the Civil Union Act.
Still, Governor Chris Christie has said that he will not sign a same-sex marriage bill, and the Legislature seems at this stage to lack the will to move legislation on its own knowing that it is unlikely to muster enough support to override a governor veto.
As such, Lambda Legal together with Garden State Equality announced recently that they, acting on behalf of seven same-sex couples, will sue the state of New Jersey in an attempt to secure full marriage rights. You can read more on that here.