Friday, November 20, 2009

Rutgers-Eagleton Poll Shows Narrow Majority Support Gay Marriage in NJ

NEW BRUNSWICK, N.J. – Supporters of gay marriage may find New Jersey more hospitable than many other states, according to a Rutgers-Eagleton Poll released Thursday. By a 46 percent to 42 percent margin, adults in New Jersey favor legalizing same-sex nuptials, with 12 percent unsure.

The survey also shows that if the state Legislature passes a bill legalizing gay marriage, 52 percent would accept the decision, while 40 percent would support a constitutional amendment banning the practice.

The poll of 903 New Jersey adults was fielded November 6-10 and has a margin of error of +/-3.3 percentage points. Half the respondents also had been interviewed before the Nov. 3 elections. The gay marriage questions were asked only after Election Day.

“New Jerseyans are more supportive of gay marriage than opposed to it, and more importantly, a majority would accept a legislative decision legalizing same-sex marriages,” said David Redlawsk, director of the Rutgers-Eagleton Poll and professor of political science at Rutgers University. “While this tests opinion outside the intensity of a campaign to ban gay marriage, as occurred in California, there is more of a ‘live and let live’ attitude in New Jersey than in many other states that have dealt with this issue.” 

Support for Gay Marriage in New Jersey
Women are more likely than men to support gay marriage here, 51 percent to 42 percent, and younger residents (under 40) are more supportive than their older counterparts, by 53 percent to 43 percent. About half the Latino (52 percent) and white (49 percent) respondents favor same-sex marriage, but only 29 percent of blacks feel the same way. The results mirror national trends, Redlawsk said. 

Gay Marriage Not an Important Issue for Most New Jerseyans
Clearly, residents don’t give gay marriage a high priority among issues facing the state:  only 2 percent say it is the most important issue, while 15 percent say it is one of a few very important issues. Another 37 percent call the issue “somewhat important,” while 44 percent say it is “not at all important.”

“This holds across the board,” said Redlawsk. “Even African-Americans, who are strongly opposed, do not consider gay marriage an important issue; 53 percent say it is not at all important.” Supporters of gay marriage, however, are much more likely to call the issue “very important,” with 22 percent of supporters feeling strongly, while only 24 percent think the issue is not important. In comparison, 61 percent of those who oppose gay marriage say the issue is not important. 

Responding to a Bill Legalizing Gay Marriage
In response to hypothetical legislative approval of gay marriage, residents were asked to choose from three options: support a state constitutional amendment to ban both gay marriages and civil unions; support an amendment to ban gay marriages only; accept gay marriages. A majority (52 percent) would accept legalization, three times as many who would favor banning both practices and more than twice the number who would ban gay marriages only.

“If the Legislature passes a bill on gay marriage, results suggest that most New Jersey residents will accept the decision,” said Redlawsk. “There will be a strong reaction from opponents, but for the most part, opponents actually see this as a less important issue than do supporters. And interestingly, about half the undecided respondents would accept legalizing gay marriage, while only 18 percent would support some kind of ban, suggesting that they are not a potential source of opposition to a gay marriage bill.” 

Knowing Someone Who is Gay or Lesbian Increases Support
Many New Jerseyans have gay or lesbian friends (56 percent), family (32 percent), or co-workers (30 percent). Those with a gay co-worker are nine points more likely to support gay marriage than those without, while those with a gay family member are 19 points more supportive and those with a gay close friend are 17 points more supportive of gay marriage. Those who know gays or lesbians are also more likely to consider the issue of gay marriage to be important than those who do not.

“Social scientists hypothesize that having contact with people who are different from ourselves can result in greater sympathy for and understanding of others,” said Redlawsk. “This is clearly the case in New Jersey. Knowing a gay person results in much greater support for gay marriage, probably because having such contact results in seeing past whatever differences we imagine there are between people.”

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