Three states will be voting for marriage equality on November 6th. Three states where the polling shows commanding leads for referenda that will legalize same-sex marriage. If the polls are telling even close to the truth, wedding bells will be ringing in Maine, Maryland and Washington State in the not too distant future.
Here's the polling averages for the three states (pro same-sex marriage numbers first). The polls language vries, but all are asking specifically about the referendum question, not about same-sex marriage in general. Every poll I know of of that nature is being averaged here:
|State||2012 Polling Avg||Number of Polls||After Labor Day Avg||Number of Polls|
|Maine||54.2 - 39.1||8||54.3 - 40.5||4|
|Maryland||50.3 - 42.1||9||50.7 - 41.7||3|
|Washington||51.8 - 41.8||8||54.3 - 39.0||4|
In a standard election, polling results like this a couple of weeks out would be an almost perfect predictor of the outcome, these averaged results being far beyond the margin of error.
No one, however, is counting their chickens just yet. But first I'd like to dismiss a canard:
Despite opponents of marriage equality and every newspaper article written about these referenda repeating over and over that marriage equality has lost 32 out of 32 times, that's simply not true. What is true is that ballot measures "defining marriage between one man and one woman" have won 32 out of 32 times. But there has never been a ballot measure in which people have voted on whether to "legalize same-sex marriage." Until now. Will that make a difference?
Polling gurus have noticed that in referenda where the question of defining marriage is to be voted on (those 32 aformentioned decisions), and a similar referendum on civil unions that happened in Washington in 2009, voters who are nominally undecided tend to break very strongly against marriage equality. Thus, if you have a poll result of 51-41, with 8% undecided, you might just end up on election day at 51-49, or, worse, 49-51, rather than, say, 54-46.
In California in 2008, the last four polls (all mid to late October) measuring support for Proposition 8 were 47-50, 44-49, 44-52 and 48-45 (avg 45.8 - 49.0). Proposition 8 won 52-48. Same-sex marriage opponents picked up 6% while proponents lost one percent.
In Washington in 2009, a referendum was held to legalize "everything-but-marriage" civil unions. The three polling results (September on) were 51-44, 53-36, and 50-43 (average 51.3 - 41.0), but the vast majority of the undecideds voted against the measure, resulting in a narrow 53-47 victory for civil unions. The yes side gained less than 2% of the undecideds while the no's gained about 6%.
In Maine, also in 2009, a vote to uphold or veto the new marriage equality law was held. The four latest polling results (mid to late October) were 42-53 (veto/uphold), 47-48, 48-48 and 51-47 (average 47.0 - 49.0). The vote totals were 53-47, rescinding the new law. Marriage equality lost 2% from the polling average when all was said and done, while opponents gained 6%, an amount even greater than the number of people who said they were undecided.
In North Carolina in 2012, two PPP polls were conducted in the runup to the referendum held in early May on a constitutional amendment defining marriage as between one man and one woman, producing results of 54-40 and 55-41. The ultimate result was 61-39. Again, all the undecideds (and more) broke against same-sex marriage, gaining about 6%.
Interesting, eh? The anti same-sex marriage crowd gained just about 6% in every one of these races, while proponents lost one or two percent in three of the votes, gaining 2% in one, for an average of around a loss of 1%.
One can understand why marriage equality proponents are pleased, yet anxious, looking at the polling for 2012. Maine and Washington have a small cushion above the 50% threshold, but Maryland is hovering right on the edge. If all the apparent undecided in Maryland break against same-sex marriage, we may not know the outcome for weeks until a recount is done. If Maryland marriage equality proponents lose 1 or 2 percent in support, the result could well be a narrow victory for the bigots.
My own feeling is that the culture has changed since even 2009, the results in North Carolina nonwithstanding. The polling data should more accurately reflect reality, and the undecideds should not break so dramatically against marriage equality. If this is true, all three states look good and a hat trick on election night is a distinct possibility. If not, if the trends I've noted continue despite the change in culture these last three years and despite the positive tilt to the language of the referendums, then we're looking at a narrow victory in Maine, possibly a nail-biter in Washington, and a narrow loss in Maryland.
So while we are all wondering where our fingernails have gone to while waiting for the pundits to call Ohio on November 6th, remember that some of us will at the same time be plucking our eyebrows out over Maryland and Maine, despite the certainly of their Presidential vote.
And the obligatory note: I'm not looking at Minnesota here because it's not a referendum on marriage equality; it's another "define marriage as between one man and one woman in the state constitution" question. And it would ruin the 'hat trick' theme. Heh.