Just Not That Into You: Gay Marriage Supporters and the Ballot Box

Just Not That Into You: Gay Marriage Supporters and the Ballot Box


Maryland could be the latest state to reject same-sex marriage via a referendum. Last week, a group called The Maryland Marriage Alliance delivered to the Board of Elections over 113,000 voter signatures, well in excess of the amount of signatures it needed to collect to have a referendum placed on the Maryland ballot this November. Last February, the State Assembly permitted same-sex marriage, but this November residents will get to undo that effort.

If successful, Maryland will become the 33rd state to have its residents vote down gay marriage. It’s a peculiar phenomenon because numerous polls suggest that there is growing tolerance or acceptance for same-sex marriage.  Even recent rulings in the courts suggest a radical social transformation taking place.  Other very liberal states like Maine, Washington and Minnesota have also had success putting the issue on their ballots for this November. Just last month, voters in traditionally conservative state North Carolina defined marriage as between a man and a woman – but so did voters in a very so-called liberal state known as California in November 2008.

Could we be witnessing a sort of Bradley Effect on the marriage equality question, a theory explaining discrepancies between voter opinion polls and election outcomes? The Bradley Effect refers to the 1980 California governor’s race in which the first Black Mayor of Los Angeles Tom Bradley showed election day dominance in the polling surveys, but lost at the voting polls.  Experts suggest that mostly White polling respondents at the time were afraid to admit that they weren’t voting for the Black candidate out of fear of looking racist.

The latest Washington PostABC poll indicated that 53% support gay marriage. PollingReport.com showed 50% support. A recent Gallup report showed a climb from 42% to 50%.

But, it’s hard to reconcile the difference between what’s being said in surveys and what people are voting in the polls? What else explains the difference?

Perhaps those polled do not want to appear as intolerant or thought of as a bigot and thus give an answer that is opposite to their true feelings.  Then again, the answer could be found in where they are polling. Cornering a person on the street at the grocery store or in a metropolitan and urban city would reveal a different result than asking people coming out of church or that live along the Bible belt.

Then we can look to voter turnout. Those who are more adamant and passionate about an issue are also more likely to get to the polls and vote their issues and concerns.  These types of citizens most likely have more enthusiasm than those who say “yay” when polled on gay marriage, who are just not that into the issue to get off their couch and go vote on it, especially if it is on a ballot in local or state elections which traditionally have lower vote turn out.

Again, the gay marriage on state referendum trend could all boil down to the enthusiasm gap.

Meanwhile, in Maryland, the Marriage Alliance took less than 3 months to assemble double the amount of signatures need an entire month ahead of the deadline. That may give it away as to how this will all end up come November. Time will tell.


  1. Another factor to consider is that with the exception of the recent NC vote against SSM, the other 31 states voted on the issue some time ago, often years ago. It is said that if Prop-8 in CA were voted on today, it would fail dramatically (thus supporting SSM).

    What would an interesting chart to see if the polling data at the time the states voted against SSM and the polling data today of those same states. That would be an interesting comparison.

    We have seen dramatic changes since the 2009 repeal of SSM in Maine. Prop-8 and DOMA lost in court, NY state legalized SSM (a very populous state), DADT has been repealed and several other states have approved SSM with some of those in heading to the ballot box this November. Socially, we have seen more celebrities and their families go public, President Obama, Vice President Biden, and the NAACP have come out in favor of SSM. Many, many large corporations are now providing spousal benefits for SS couples/spouses, and many are actively courting gay and liberal customers with specific ads and spokespersons. They are attempting to look open, progressive, and inclusive. It has become an advantage to be known as being pro-SSM and pro civil rights.

    We also are seeing less than successful fund raising on the negative side. The Catholic church has tossed in the towel in Maine and will not longer fight against SSM with donations, etc.

    The handwriting is on the wall with this. The court cases alone indicate eventual passage of SSM nationally.

  2. A voter victory is hollow and pales before the righteous might of the United States Constitution! Only a modern day terrorist wishes to destroy our democracy by subverting our Constitution! Think of this as your ballot is cast!

  3. Chuck makes a really good point about when the majority of states passed their bans, and if compared to polls it may show a similar trend. Then again, who knows without the data in front of you. One thing I've really noticed this year though, that's different from other years in Maine at least, is that there are a lot of undecided (middle ground) people as compared to 2009. In 2009 the polls were so tight that it isn't surprising they were slightly off, although a PPP poll taken just before the vote showed 51% against marriage equality and 47% for it, and the official vote was 53% to 47% respectively. As mentioned before, there's a large group undecided or pondering now, and in every poll a majority for it, but the only way to know for sure is to wait the last 5 nail-biting months until election day… I'm in good faith that 2012 will be the year of change at the voting booths in at least some states over the marriage issue. Either way, the tides are changing fast.

  4. I would think the Ninth Circuit's recent overturning of California's Prop 8 and DOMA suggest 1) the inevitability of same-sex marriage's legalization throughout the U.S. and, 2) the 14th Amendment doesn't allow for the suspension or denial of civil rights by referendum.