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Field Poll: Prop. 8 dividing voters 49% No - 44% Yes


By: Mark DiCamillo and Mervin Field, Field Research Corporation

Oct. 31, 2008 - One of the most closely watched statewide election contests in years concerns Proposition 8, the proposed state constitutional amendment to ban same-sex couples from marrying in California. The controversial initiative has produced an outpouring of a reported $60 million in campaign contributions from over 64,000 people in all fifty states and more than twenty foreign countries.

In its final pre-election survey, The Field Poll shows the No-side continuing to prevail over the Yes-side but by a narrower margin than previously. The poll, completed one week before the election, shows 49% of likely voters voting No, 44% on the Yes side and 7% undecided.

The poll finds significant proportions of both Yes and No voters in conflict about the issues involved in the same-sex marriage debate, with many Yes voters concurring with some anti-Prop. 8 arguments and sizeable proportions of No voters recognizing the merits of some pro-Prop. 8 claims.

The same survey finds a shift in voter preferences on Prop. 7, the renewable energy generation initiative, with support declining twenty-four points in recent months, from 63% in July to 39% at present. On the other hand, a majority of voters (60%) continues to support Prop. 2, the farm animal confinement initiative. In addition, a 45% to 30% plurality of voters favors Prop. 11, the redistricting initiative, although a large 25% of likely voters are undecided.

These are the findings from the latest Field Poll conducted October 18-28 among a random sample of 966 likely voters statewide.

Trend of voter preferences on Proposition 8 (Same-Sex Marriage Ban)

Prop. 8 trailed in The Field Poll's initial measurement in July by nine points (51% No to 42% Yes) taken shortly after it qualified for the ballot.

The No-side advantage increased to fourteen points (52% to 38%) in September, when voters were asked to react to its original ballot description, which referred to the measure as the "Limit on Marriage" initiative. However, following the state Supreme Court's ruling that the state's existing same-sex marriage ban was unconstitutional, thereby making it legal for same-sex couples to marry in California, state Attorney General Jerry Brown changed Prop. 8's official ballot title to the "Eliminates Right of Same-Sex Couples to Marry" initiative. When voters were read this amended description in September, the No-side lead grew to seventeen points (55% No vs. 38% Yes).

Now, after more than a month of intensive campaigning on both sides, the initiative trails by just five points, 49% No vs. 44% Yes, with 7% undecided. Yes-side support has increased six points, and those opposed declining six points over the past month.

Trend of voter preferences on Prop. 2 (Farm Animal Confinement), Prop. 7 (Renewable Energy Generation) and Prop. 11 (Redistricting)

There has been a major shift in voter dispositions with regard to Proposition 7, the renewable energy generation initiative, over this same period.

A July Field Poll, taken prior to any active campaigning on the initiative, showed likely voters initially supporting the measure by a wide margin, 63% to 27%. Now, after months of vigorous campaigning on both sides, the proportion of voters supporting the measure has declined twenty-four points to 39%. This compares to 43% of voters who are now opposing the initiative, while a growing 18% are undecided.

By contrast, there has been very little change in voters' initial support for Prop. 2, the farm animal confinement initiative. Last July voters favored the initiative 63% to 24%. In the current poll 60% are intending to vote Yes and 27% are voting No.

In addition, a plurality of voters continue to support Prop. 11, the initiative to change the way state legislative districts are drawn. In the current survey, 45% are in favor, while 30% are opposed - not much different than the poll's July survey, when it was supported 42% to 30%. However, a relatively large proportion of voters (25%) remain undecided.

Prop. 8 demographic differences

The relatively close 49% No vs. 44% Yes division of preferences on Prop. 8 masks many sharp splits across various demographic subgroups of the state's likely voter population.

Democrats are strongly opposing the initiative by a margin of 65% to 28%. Voters supporting Barack Obama for President are even more likely to be opposing Prop. 8 (73% No vs. 21% Yes). By contrast, Republicans are extremely supportive of the initiative, with 75% now on the Yes side and 20% voting No. Supporters of John McCain for President are even more heavily on the Yes side - 84% Yes and 13% No. Voters registered as non-partisans or who are affiliated with other parties are opposing Prop. 8 by a roughly two to one ratio - 60% No and 31% Yes.

There is a huge ideological divide on this issue. Strong conservatives are nearly eight to one in favor of the initiative (87% to 10%), while voters who are strongly liberal in politics take a completely opposite view, with 86% opposing Prop. 8 and just 10% in favor. Voters who say they take a middle-of-the-road position in politics are voting No by eleven points (51% to 40%).

Californians intending to vote early or by mail will likely comprise almost half (47%) of all voters in next week's election. These voters are narrowly favoring the initiative 48% to 45%. In addition, among the 22% of voters who had already voted at the time the survey was completed, the Yes side was leading by six points (50% to 44%). This differs from the voting preferences of those intending to vote at their local precincts next Tuesday. These voters oppose Prop. 8 by a 52% to 41% margin.

There is a clear geographic divide in voting preferences on Prop. 8. Voters living in the state's coastal counties, which constitutes 71% of all likely voters, are heavily on the No side, with 54% opposed and 39% in favor. This contrasts with voters living in the state's inland counties who are backing the initiative, 57% to 37%.

The poll finds women opposing the same sex marriage ban by nine points (51% to 42%), while men are about evenly divided - 47% No and 46% Yes.

All age subgroups under age 65 are opposing Prop. 8 by doubled-digit margins. However, voters 65 and over are strongly in favor of the initiative, backing Prop. 8 by a nearly two to one margin (62% Yes vs. 32% No).

White non-Hispanic voters, who comprise about two-thirds of all likely voters, are currently opposing Prop. 8 by six points - 50% to 44%. Latinos, who comprise about 19% of likely voters, are about evenly divided (48% No vs. 46% Yes). African-Americans and Asians/others hold mixed views about the initiative, with the former narrowly backing Prop. 8 and the latter narrowly opposed.

There are big differences in preferences according to a voter's education level. Voters with no more than a high school education are favoring Prop. 8 by two and one-half to one (62% to 27%). By contrast, voters who have a post-graduate education are taking an opposite view and are voting No nearly two to one (61% to 33%).

A voter's religious affiliation also relates to preferences on Prop. 8. Protestants are very much in favor of Prop. 8, with 60% on the Yes side and 33% voting No. Catholics are about evenly divided (48% No vs. 44% Yes). By contrast, voters affiliated with other non-Christian religions or who have no religious preference are heavily opposed to the proposed ban on same-sex marriages.

A very large majority of this state's voters (78%) say they personally know or work with people who are gay or lesbian. These voters are inclined to be voting No on Prop. 8 (51% No vs. 43% Yes). The much smaller proportion of voters who are not personally familiar with gays or lesbians, on the other hand, are lining up on the Yes side 50% to 42%.

Pro and con arguments about Prop. 8

In this survey voters were read ten arguments about Prop. 8 - five in favor and five against - that have been featured by supporters and opponents, as well as in news commentaries about the initiative, and asked whether they agreed or disagreed with each statement.

The results reveal the very complex nature of the issues at stake, with many Yes voters allowing that they agree with some anti-Prop. 8 statements and many No voters recognizing the merits of some of the pro-Prop. 8 arguments.

Reactions to arguments in favor

One argument in favor of Prop. 8 draws the broadest level of agreement. This relates to the view that "the institution of traditional marriage between a man and a woman is one of the cornerstones of our country's Judeo-Christian heritage." Statewide, 65% of voters agree with this statement, including 39% of those intending to vote No.

A 50% to 36% plurality of voters concurs with another Yes side argument that "Prop. 8 restores the institution of traditional marriage between a man and a woman, while not removing any domestic partnership rights that had previously been granted to gay and lesbian couples."

A narrower plurality of likely voters (47% to 41%) also agrees with the view that "Prop. 8 reverses the flawed legal reasoning of activist judges who overturned the state's previous voter-approved law defining marriage as between a man and a woman." However, attitudes about this are closely tied to vote choices, with large majorities of Yes voters in agreement and most No voters disagreeing.

On the other hand, majorities of voters disagree with two other pro-Prop. 8 arguments. By a nearly two to one margin (60% to 32%), voters disagree with the statement "if Prop. 8 is not approved, the public schools could be required to teach kids that same sex marriage is as acceptable as traditional marriage in California." Nearly as many (59%) disagree with the view that "gay rights leaders in California are moving too fast in their efforts to win new rights and legal protections for gays and lesbians."

Opposing arguments

When presented with five arguments opposing the initiative, a majority of likely voters concurs with four of them.

Sixty-one percent are in accord with the statement that "by eliminating the right of gay and lesbian couples to marry, Prop. 8 denies one class of citizens the right to enjoy the dignity and responsibility of marriage."

Nearly as large majorities also say they agree with each of these three anti-Prop. 8 arguments: "matters relating to the definition of marriage should not be written into the constitution" (58%); "domestic partnership laws by themselves do not give gay and lesbian couples the same certainty and security that marriage laws provide" (58%); and, "extending new rights and legal protections to different peoples and lifestyles, such as gays and lesbians, benefits California and the nation in the long run" (57%). Significant proportions of Yes voters concur with the first two of these statements.

A smaller plurality of voters also concur with the view that "followers of the Mormon Church are exerting too much influence on the state's political process by underwriting an estimated 40 percent of the Yes on Proposition 8's campaign contributions." Statewide 40% of voters agrees with this view, 33% disagree and 27% have no opinion.


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