As Republicans at the state level start thinking about rolling back opposition to gay marriage, two conservative groups released a poll meant to demonstrate that the issue is still important to the party's base — but attitudes among Republicans are shifting. The new poll shows a snapshot. The motion picture is very different.
The poll, conducted by conservative polling firm WPA Research, was commissioned by the groups American Values and Family Research Council, both of which have been staunchly and consistently opposed to gay marriage. (After the Supreme Court rulings in support of gay marriage last summer, FRC's Tony Perkins declared that the justices had "carjacked the nation.") According to the survey, 82 percent of Republicans agree with the statement "I believe marriage should be defined only as a union between one man and one woman?" Three-quarters of Republicans disagreed when asked if "politicians should support the redefinition of marriage to include same-sex couples."
American Values' Gary Bauer declared that the poll results show that "public policy-makers are doing a great disservice to themselves and future generations by continuing to misread the convictions of the American people" on gay marriage.
As anyone who watches polling knows, the question that's asked makes a world of difference. What WPA asked was only about the definition of marriage — a very specific question focused on a very gauzy issue. Does allowing same-sex couples to get married and enjoy the legal benefits of marriage necessarily redefine marriage? And more importantly, do the strong majorities of the 801 Republicans that WPA polled think that, say, overturning Prop 8 means marriage has been redefined?
A look at data from other pollsters suggests that attitudes within the Republican base are different than what the WPA poll suggests. And, more importantly, that support is growing within the party. I looked at data from Langer Research (which polls for ABC and The Washington Post), Gallup, and Pew Research.
The questions vary by polling firm and aren't centered on the idea of marriage's definition, but the trend is clear: more Republicans express support for gay marriage. (You'll notice a little tick downward in the Gallup results. Another poll in 2013 showed Republican support at 30 percent, but for the graph we used the data in the post linked above.)
That trend, of course, is why party leaders are rethinking the party's official opposition. In a poll last month, Pew found that 61 percent of Republicans under 30 support gay marriage, definition issues notwithstanding. That's a sea change. The WPA poll is a sketch of the current high water mark.