In the sharply divided battle over same-sex marriage in New York, four Republican senators joined the 33 to 29 majority permitting gay marriage. One of the four – Roy McDonald – came out with the following statement on his decision to support the measure:
“You get to the point where you evolve in your life where everything isn’t black and white, good and bad, and you try to do the right thing.
“You might not like that. You might be very cynical about that. Well, f**k it, I don’t care what you think. I’m trying to do the right thing.
“I’m tired of Republican-Democrat politics. They can take the job and shove it. I come from a blue-collar background. I’m trying to do the right thing, and that’s where I’m going with this.”
This colorful refrain from McDonald not only shifted the battle in New York, it also brings into question the Republican Party’s future relationship with gay marriage.
Currently, the Republican Party faithful still strongly oppose gay marriage. Poll Watch Daily reports that, “85 percent of Staunch Conservatives and 72 percent of Main Street Republicans oppose the right of gays and lesbians to marry.” And according to a newly-released Zogby poll, only 12 percent of Republicans support gay marriage.
But outside the Republican base, opposition to gay marriage is no longer a sure political winner. The Los Angeles Times wrote in May that five national polls show “majority and growing” support for gay marriage. A recent Gallup poll put gay marriage support at 53 percent of the country, and the July 7 Zogby poll puts overall support for same sex marriage at 42 percent. The average of these polls suggests that sentiment on gay marriage is now fairly evenly divided.
Among young voters, however, gay marriage is a losing issue for the Republican Party. The same Gallup poll cited above showed that “70 percent of those between 18 and 34” support gay marriage. Other studies – such as this one by Pew – estimate youth support to be lower, but still in favor of gay marriage.
A study by my organization, RK Research, confirms youth hostility toward the Republican Party’s position on gay marriage. The surveyed college students (taken as a subset of young voters), when asked to rate the Republican Party on 25 issues, gave the Party a score of 3.8 (1 – the worst, 10 – the best) on gay rights, dead last of the 25 issues. A divide exists, however, between self-identified Republicans who rank gay rights as the Party’s third best issue at a score of 7.6, and Democrats and independents who both rank gay rights as the Party’s worst issue.
This might lead one to say that the issue is a partisan toss up – it secures an even number of Republicans on one side and Democrats on the other. But this fails to take into account that the plurality of young voters (38 percent) now identify as independents, and only 22 percent identify as Republicans. As Nick Gillespie and Matt Welch point out in The Declaration of Independents, an issue that doesn’t capture young independents is a losing issue among young voters.
Before gay marriage passed in New York, Sheryl Gay Stolberg wrote at The New York Times that President Obama – in all of his political savvy – is already on to the shifting trends towards gay marriage. How far behind will the Republican Party be?
Stephen Richer is a director at DC-based nonpartisan think tank and the President and Chairman of RK Research, a 501(c)3 research group that studies the political behavior of young voters.
Stephen holds an M.A. in political science and as undergraduate he was named First Team All-Academic (top 100 students in the country) by USA Today, and he received a Volunteer Service Award, Gold Class from President George W. Bush.
Outside of work, Stephen runs the most popular website for young professional Jews in Washington, DC (www.GathertheJews.com), plays sports, and roots for the Utah Jazz.