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With six recent polls showing support for same-sex marriage at 59 percent, 56 percent, 55 percent, 55 percent, 54 percent, and 53 percent, it seems like a good time to make another graph of the polling data. The following figure shows the net support for marriage equality in 175 polls over the past 29 years—the percent in favor minus the percent against. I've labeled a handful of notable events for orientation. The line is a Loess regression model.

Net support for marriage equality has rapidly increased in the past 10 years, and is now at about +19.
Two things stand out to me: The Great Panic of '03 and the upwards march of net support ever since. More detail on this below.

But first, this line will likely keep going up in the long term. Why? One, conservatives have spent millions and thrown everything they had against marriage equality; the result has been only temporary drops in support at worst. Two, and this cannot be repeated enough, because young people are far more supportive of marriage equality than the oldest cohort they are replacing. Support in the general population will continue to rise as long as this remains true (and I've seen no evidence to suggest it will change).

Even the most conservative groups of young people are nearing plurality support for marriage equality.
Please read more on this story below the fold.

For those who like getting lost in the details, in the graph below, I have added a panel showing the rate of change of the regression line (this should be interpreted with caution), and a panel showing victories and defeats when same-sex marriages either were recognized as legal, or banned (DOMA is included).

Marriage equality support is increase faster than ever before, at the same time as a burst of successes across the country.
The Early Years

Polling on the opinions of same-sex marriage, or marriage for homosexual couples (the wording used in some early polls), was not common prior to the fight over DOMA. What data we do have show net support rising quickly as the idea of same-sex marriage first entered public debate.

The process of passing DOMA likely resulting in a setback for public support; at the very least, public opinion stalled for several years. By 2000, however, net support was clearly growing again.

Then came Lawrence v. Texas.

The Great Panic of '03

Lawrence v. Texas was handed down by the Supreme Court on June 26, 2003. The very next day, Gallup went in the field with a poll; Pew had actually already started a poll on June 24th. These polls found what was then a record high net support of -15 for same-sex marriage, and the second highest recorded net support (-16).

By October, however, net support in the Pew and Gallup polls had plummeted to -27 and -26. This was prior to the decision legalizing same-sex marriage in Massachusetts on November 18, 2003.  

Between these two sets of polls, I vaguely recall a right-wing freakout, and apparently it was a successful one. On August 10th in the New York Times, Elisabeth Bumiller explained to us "Why America Has Gay Marriage Jitters:"

What happened? Pollsters, sociologists and gay rights leaders say the answer lies in large part in the culturally explosive word "marriage," which entered the debate after the Supreme Court ruling in June. The word came first from Justice Antonin Scalia, who in a sharp dissent to the sodomy decision accused the court of having "largely signed on to the so-called homosexual agenda." He predicted that same-sex marriage would be the logical next step.

Social conservatives quickly took up the warning that traditional marriage as Americans knew it was gravely endangered. President Bush was pressured by his conservative supporters to oppose gay marriage publicly, which he did last month in the Rose Garden — when he used a question about homosexuality to talk specifically about gay marriage.

In other words, same-sex marriage suddenly became The End of the World As We Know It. The Right-Wing Noise Machine went into high gear, and support for marriage equality fell dramatically.

Standing Athwart History, and Getting Run Over

By the end of 2004, support for marriage equality had fallen to where it had been approximately ten years previously. The forces of bigotry had a dozen wins racked up for the year. Some analysts were even crediting them with the re-election of Bush via increased conservative turnout for anti-marriage ballot measures.

Ever since then, however, support for marriage equality has only grown, although the growth seems to have slowed down for the election years of 2008 and 2012. Currently, the rate of change is at record highs at about 10 points of net support per year (at least until the next Fox poll chimes in—Fox polls have, shockingly, almost always shown the lowest numbers of all).

Interestingly, two recent major events appear to have had little effect on public opinion. Obama's interview supporting marriage equality and the Supreme Court's ruling on the constitutionality of DOMA don't seem to have interrupted the trends in progress at the time. This doesn't mean, however, that they had no effect on public opinion. For instance, perhaps without the DOMA ruling, public opinion would have stalled out last summer. Also, they could have had temporary effects that aren't apparent on this graph. PPP state polls did show, collectively, larger increases in support for same-sex marriage in the month following Obama's announcement; the trendline in the graph above shows this was a short-lived phenomenon, however.

Today, support for marriage equality is very strong in the United States, even among young Republicans. The string of defeats has petered out while the rapid-fire successes are beginning to seem almost commonplace, as state after state begins to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples.

Data sources

The two most comprehensive data sources are and the American Enterprise Institute(!). For one poll, the oldest (1985), I can find no information other than a brief discussion of the results in a 2008 post by Charles Franklin. Please note that wording varies from one poll to another. Wins and losses are marked as of the day a bill is signed, a ballot measure is passed, or a court decision is handed down (even if it is stayed).

Originally posted to Daily Kos on Sat Mar 29, 2014 at 12:00 PM PDT.

Also republished by Kossacks for Marriage Equality.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Wish the wingnuts who post on these news sites (21+ / 0-)

    of articles would see these numbers. If you notice, they will all cite the vast majority of this counry is against marriage equality. Instead they talk about the minority of the people being LBGT and they should not have to accept what 2 pct of the people want. They act as if one has to be LBGT to be in favor of marriage equality and equality for all.

    Keystone Liberals on Twitter @ KeystoneLibs , Join PA Liberals at

    by wishingwell on Sat Mar 29, 2014 at 12:14:54 PM PDT

  •  This will certainly fuel the GOP's agenda (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    wishingwell, dougymi

    I believe they will take a good hard look at this and conclude that they have to go hard after homo-special rights, and try to repeal obambicare.


    by otto on Sat Mar 29, 2014 at 12:53:18 PM PDT

  •  That second graph is stunning! (6+ / 0-)

    Every category of Millennials is more favorable than any category of Silent Generationals.   To see attitudes swing that much that quickly is a rare thing of beauty.

    If I have any spit left after I've licked my own wounds, I'll be glad to consider licking yours. Peace.

    by nancyjones on Sat Mar 29, 2014 at 12:53:22 PM PDT

    •  Yes it certainly is encouraging and gives me more (3+ / 0-)

      hope for the future of this country when I see numbers like this for the younger generation.  

      Keystone Liberals on Twitter @ KeystoneLibs , Join PA Liberals at

      by wishingwell on Sat Mar 29, 2014 at 12:56:06 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  That second graph explains Utah (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      Say what you want about Mormons; they do have a lot of young people.

      In general, many rural areas get a double-whammy. They already lean conservative because they are rural, and young people tend to leave because there are no jobs, given many family farms getting swallowed up by corporate conglomerates.

      And God said, "Let there be light"; and with a Big Bang, there was light. And God said "Ow! Ow My eyes!" and in a flash God separated light from darkness. "Whew! Now that's better. Now where was I. Oh yea . . ."

      by Pale Jenova on Sat Mar 29, 2014 at 02:36:52 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  That conclusion isn't based on the data provided (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      nancyjones, slothlax

      I don't wish to be pedantic but the line contains only certain data points, i.e. those groups which would generally be considered to oppose marriage equality plus "All". For example, there is no data for "North-East Liberals" 68+ who are probably more favorable than "White Evangelical Millennials". In fact, to get "All 68+" to its spot on the line, there have to be 68+ groups to the right of "All" some of whom might be more favorable than Millennial Evangelicals.

      I looked at the PRRI report which did not break down the data to answer the question definitively. Here's an article with a  link to a site with the report.

      The only conclusion that can be drawn from this data, I believe is the following:

      "Millennials who belong to groups that generally oppose marriage equality are more favorable to it than any of the 68+ generation groups that generally oppose marriage equality." Weak tea, I know, but it shows that younger people are more in favor, even if they belong to "traditional marriage" groups.

  •  thinking back (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    claytonben, RiveroftheWest

      Back in 04,  I was in my mid-50's so today I am in mid-60's, supposedly one of the old foggies who hate Dems, gays, etc etc etc.

        It is hard to remember what I was thinking about gay marriage in 04,  I've never been against it, but because I wasn't focused on politics except for hating GWB and his wars, I'm guessing I would have given this issue a pass - as in no big deal.   I don't even remember how the ballot information was presented in TX - but if it followed what we see today - one has to study the entire law - as the issue described on the ballot is usually piss-poor.  

        For that laziness, I apologize.   never again!

    •  Yes, I didn't realize I supported gay marriage (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      jplanner, RiveroftheWest, BYw

      I'm younger than you, but middle aged.

      I've always been in favor of full equality for my fellow citizens who happen to be gay.

      When I was younger and stupider (although very progressive), I just never thought about it.  I didn't know enough about marriage, taxes, medical decisions, inheritances, or anything like that to make the connection on my own.  I probably didn't even realize that gay marriage wasn't legally recognized, and might have been naive enough to think that if a couple of women went down to the courthouse and asked for a marriage license they would have been given one.  I was massively unaware of the level of anti-gay bigotry.  If someone had brought it up and pointed out the fact that governments recognize marriage as a legal entity and that being married confers significant and important legal benefits, I would have immediately supported gay marriage.

      I also went through a brief, embarrassing period of thinking that if the word "marriage" was such rocket fuel for the right, maybe we should just fight for "civil unions"; however, it was quickly pointed out to me that the only reason to call it something other than "marriage" was to keep the door open for inferior status.

      Although I never would have consciously opposed equal marriage rights for same sex couples, my awareness did evolve.

      •  There are still many people in this country (0+ / 0-)

        that don't realize that in most states you can still be fired for being LGBT, can still be denied housing because you are LGBT, etc.

        It is unconscionable that the Employment Non-Discrimination Act hasn't been passed and signed into law yet.

        It is also sick to think that there are states that would rather have kids raised in orphanages and passed around in foster homes than have them adopted by someone who is LGBT.

        All of this is mostly done in the name of religion by people who are trying (and failing big-time) to be Christ-like.   Get a clue people, if you are going to call yourself a CHRISTian you should at least make an attempt at understanding who Christ was and what he stood for instead of cherry picking shit verses from the Old Testament.

    •  Not all "old fogeys" hate Dems :) (0+ / 0-)

      Although I know some particular ones who do.

      And God said, "Let there be light"; and with a Big Bang, there was light. And God said "Ow! Ow My eyes!" and in a flash God separated light from darkness. "Whew! Now that's better. Now where was I. Oh yea . . ."

      by Pale Jenova on Sat Mar 29, 2014 at 02:39:17 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Another contributing factor (6+ / 0-)

    was the 2004 presidential race, where rove and his publican followers in quite a few states (including mine) put anti-gay marriage amendments to state constituitions on the ballot in order to drive up the publican base vote for bush. The amount of fearmongering and scary advertising they engaged in during those campaigns was incredible and was bound to influence the dip that you see in 2003.  

    A learning experience is one of those things that says, 'You know that thing you just did? Don't do that.' Douglas Adams

    by dougymi on Sat Mar 29, 2014 at 01:07:34 PM PDT

  •  Admittedly, only my observation... (4+ / 0-)

    ...but since the "Great Panic Of '03" and the support slump of '04, it seems clear to me that the dire warnings of anti-gay hysterics has played as significant a role in subsequent growing support of equality as any other single element; LGBT rights opponents simply jumped the shark.  

    As the piece says, they've "thrown everything they had against marriage equality." Reasonable people began questioning opponents' assertions - "How can same-sex couples marrying pose a threat to the marriages of others and, by extension, a threat to the very institution?" - and, absent any credible answers, came to their own conclusions: "They can't, and don't."

    Then came the flood (no pun intended) of truly wacko claims involving tornadoes, hurricanes, earthquakes and so forth, and reasonable people - knowing crazy when they heard it - again reached their own conclusions: "If they're this nuts when it comes to gays and lesbians, there's no reason to pay any attention to them about this or any other issue."

    By sacrificing credibility in their desperation, those hysterics have, in a perverse way, become some of equality's best friends, and the worst enemies of their own dubious cause.  

    That's the way it appears to me.


    •  I think the biggest change in public (0+ / 0-)

      perception is due to what Harvey Milk preached long ago - the best thing that gays and lesbians can do to get equality is for EVERYONE who is bi-sexual, gay or lesbian to come out of the closet and live an honest life.

      It is much easier to think bad thoughts and harbor ill will towards an abstract concept of "the gays" than it is to sustain that hate towards your lovely neighbors, Bill & Ted and Thelma & Louise and your gay nephew Steve.

      Gay rights and equality is like a snowball rolling down hill now.   As it becomes more acceptable in society to be gay, it is easier for people to come out and as more people come out it becomes more and more acceptable in society.

  •  young people and Republicans (17+ / 0-)

    I was going to write this a couple of days ago.

    The current Republican party is not going to gain support from current younger voters (who will become older voters not supporting the current type of Republican party as they go forward in time).  Youth support peaked in 1994.  It won't come back for three reasons, according to the analysis of my middle aged brain.  Young people have changed, the Republican party has changed, and the country has changed.

    1) Young people have changed.  Younger people are much less sexist and homophobic than older generations.  They are also less tolerant of racism.  They may simply fail to pick up on racist dog whistle code, rather than be angered by it, but it certainly doesn't tend to win their votes.  I don't mean any ageism here, I'm well into middle age and I certainly condemn harshly judging seniors for being the product of their environment, instead of appreciating them.  But sexism, homophobia, and racism just don't manipulate younger people the way they used to.  Young people aren't into right wing economics, either, despite a constant BS effort by the media to make you think that it's always 1988 and all young people are always Alex Keaton.

    2) The Republican party has changed.  They've doubled down on crazy every decade since Gerald Ford.  Sure, the Gingrich dominated party of 1994 was crazy.  But take a closer look.  The 1992 nominee for president was George H. W. Bush; bad enough but way to the left of "RINO" by today's standards.  The 1996 nominees were Dole and Kemp; Dole was right wing enough but would be unacceptable today for his relative congeniality.  A far cry from Romney/Ryan, and they only ran Romney because the crazier candidates they really wanted had all melted down.

    3) The country has changed.  The economic legacy of Reaganomics is finally becoming clear.  Young people want economic independence.  That's natural.  Total dependence on superficially coddling but psychologically demanding baby boomer parents is not making young people happy.  I worked and borrowed my way through college.  Try that now.  I easily found a cheap room to live in near a major university.  It's all gentrified condos and luxury dorms now.  Tuition is massively higher, in real terms.  Entry into professional schools is more competitive than ever.  Jobs are scarcer than ever, and no, it's not just because young people answer their cell phones during interviews, or whatever the right wing excuse is today.

    There's always a lot of liberal hand-wringing that if Republicans try to drop the homophobia, sexism, and racism and just focus on Koch style economic policy young people will suddenly support them for being "libertarian".  Well, first of all, that's like saying that if bears would stop crapping in the woods, bears might be more popular.  They aren't going to stop.  Second of all, any Republican who honestly tries to drop those things and is public about it will lose the support of the people who already support Republicans, and feel that either at the primary or general election level.  Third of all, younger people mainly support universal health care, decent wages, and a social safety net.  If you think younger people would support a "purely libertarian" version of the Republican party, well then, why don't young people just vote for real libertarians already?  Why are they waiting for Republicans to turn libertarian?  Efforts to claim that young people should support the Republicans for "libertarian" reasons are just very clumsy efforts to pander.

    There's a dark election cycle on the horizon in November 2014, and hopefully it doesn't result in a transient advantage for the Republicans, but the long term prognosis for the current Republican party is very, very poor.

  •  What a change from the exploding heads (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    when Vermont introduced "civil unions" some time back.

    The world was clearly headed for the End then.

    Or not.

    And God said, "Let there be light"; and with a Big Bang, there was light. And God said "Ow! Ow My eyes!" and in a flash God separated light from darkness. "Whew! Now that's better. Now where was I. Oh yea . . ."

    by Pale Jenova on Sat Mar 29, 2014 at 02:40:23 PM PDT

  •  This Jewish Mother. . . (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    RiveroftheWest, slothlax

    . . .  is proud to have two sons who are part of the generation that is more fully supportive of marriage equality.  My only disappointment is that one of them wasn't gay (all good jewish mothers want a gay son, so he'll never leave us for another woman . . . . )

  •  The data points are the states now (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    RiveroftheWest, slothlax

    The classic conservative opposition to gay marriage was always rooted in 'but it will DESTROY traditional marriage!!!!'  The right cannot outright say 'we don't think the LBGT community is worthy of marriage' and instead opted to take the 'but don't you see, I AM the REAL VICTIM and MY CHILDREN are the REAL VICTIMS here' approach.

    Then, with every passing year and every passing state that allows gay marriage, Americans can see that the whole argument of 'it will destroy traditional marriage' is simply false.  There simply isn't ANY empirical support for that argument.  And every year, the data expands and still NO traditional marriage destruction!

    The opposition to gay marriage cannot use overt bigotry, so they are really left with nothing to win this argument.  Moreover, the 'dog whistle' bigotry approach only really works for seniors and hardcore Evangelicals => both of which will see reduce #'s in the near future.

    We are not only winning, we are running up the score.  The 'traditional marriage' crowd knows it has lost this battle.

  •  How about Texas? (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    I would like to see some statewide figures for my state.
    I did not hear a lot of reaction in Houston when Mayor Annise Parker and Kathy Hubbard tied the knot.

    Censorship is rogue government.

    by scott5js on Sat Mar 29, 2014 at 08:10:01 PM PDT

  •  Meanwhile in England and Wales (0+ / 0-)

    On March 29th the Same-Sex Marriages Act came into force in the legal jurisdictions of England and Wales. Parallell legislation already enacted will go live in Scotland very shortly.

    The Rainbow Flag was flown in celebration from some government offices in London.

    As the Observer (Sunday version of The Guardian) notes in an editorial today 30th March


    Regardless of personal views on the paraphernalia of orange blossom and nuptials, the Marriage (Same-Sex Couples) Act now in law in England and Wales – with Scotland following in the autumn  – marks a striking  and remarkably  rapid change in social attitudes on the question of equality.  Polls show two-thirds of people back same-sex unions. Yet little more than a decade ago, England still had a law on the books banning the "promotion" of homosexuality.
    Some notes on interesting ongoing debates in this editorial... which may be relevant to US conditions.

    Violence is the last refuge of the incompetent.

    by saugatojas on Sun Mar 30, 2014 at 12:18:26 AM PDT

  •  It would be interesting to see the first chart (0+ / 0-)

    but with notes on when gay issues came up in pop culture.

    For example, right around 97 the line starts to move up with a dramatic pace. You may remember it was in April of 97 that Ellen came out on her show.

    It would be interesting to see.

    The threat to our way of life comes from corporations, and the solution is to shrink corporations while freeing government from corporate control.

    by gbaked on Sun Mar 30, 2014 at 02:54:03 PM PDT

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