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Friday, November 6, 2009

Same-Sex Marriage, Climate Change, Unemployment

There are several election and legislative events this week that we can put in the context of American public opinion.

Maine voters on Tuesday passed a referendum (“Question 1”) which repealed Maine’s same-sex marriage law. Supporters of same-sex marriage had hoped this would be the first situation in the nation in which voters (as opposed to legislators) went to the polls and said yes to same-sex marriage. But it didn’t turn out that way.

Maine would, in theory, seem to be a pretty good place for same-sex marriage supporters to gain a victory. It’s the 11th most liberal state in the union by our Gallup calculations. These calculations are based on the percent of residents in each state who say they are “liberal.” Which, in Maine, is 24%.

This may still not seem very liberal. It is low on an absolute scale, but not on a relative scale. The highest “liberal percentage” of any of the 50 states is in Massachusetts, at 29%. The lowest is Louisiana at 14%.

To flesh out the picture, 38% of Maine residents are moderate and 36% conservative. So conservatives do, in fact, outweigh liberals in Maine. That’s the case across the nation. The 36% of Maine residents who identify themselves as conservative is quite a bit lower than Alabama, which has more conservatives -- 49% -- than any other state in the union. For comparison, the states with the lowest identification as conservative are Vermont and Hawaii, with 29% each.

At any rate, Maine is, on a relative basis, a liberal state. But the voters there still did not end up favoring same-sex marriage in their state.

The sentiment of voters in Maine on the same-sex marriage issue is reflective of the sentiment of the nation as a whole. Despite some fluctuation over the years, a majority of Americans have continued to say “no” in response to our Gallup trend question that asks: “Do you think marriages between same-sex couples should or should not be recognized by the law as valid, with the same rights as traditional marriages?”

We update this every May, in our Gallup Poll Social Series survey on moral values. There has never been a time when we have found less than a majority saying no to legalized same-sex marriage. This past May, 57% of Americans answered negatively. Forty percent said yes.

However. There has been a general trend toward greater acceptance of gay marriage over the years. There were times in the mid 1990s when two-thirds of Americans said “no.” Despite this trend, this year’s numbers are actually a little more conservative than the previous year. This corresponds to similarly more conservative trends on a number of moral issues this year, perhaps in a push back from the election of a more liberal president.

All in all, it appears that if the issue of legalizing gay marriage came to a national referendum, it would -- mirroring the vote result in Maine -- go down to defeat.

There has been some legislation action this week on climate change. The Democrats on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee passed a climate bill with essentially zero participation from Republicans. (In fact, there was a boycott by the Republican senators on the committee.) The climate bill the EPW committee came up with would produce a 20% reduction in greenhouse emissions by 2020.

Sen. Barbara Boxer, the chair of the committee, put forth a wonderfully positive explanation of the benefits of the bill, saying that it would “.... move us away from foreign oil imports that cost Americans one billion dollars a day, it will protect our children from pollution, create millions of clean-energy jobs, and stimulate billions of dollars of private investment.”

Seemingly hard to argue with. But the American public, as I discussed in some detail here, is actually becoming less worried about climate change than more so. Underscoring our Gallup findings, a new study by the Pew Research group recently measured the same trends. As Pew put it: “There has been a sharp decline over the past year in the percentage of Americans who say there is solid evidence that global temperatures are rising. And fewer also see global warming as a very serious problem -- 35% say that today, down from 44% in April 2008.”

Also, very few Americans -- 1% to be exact -- mention the environment as the nation’s top problem. There has, in short, been little measurable positive impact on Americans’ consciousness from the intense effort that has been put into raising public awareness of global warming in recent years. Perhaps Al Gore’s new book will help change that. But the efforts in the Senate to move toward a climate change bill -- not likely to happen before the Copenhagen conference -- are occurring in an environment, so to speak, in which that subject is not the top priority of the American public.

Finally, the government near the end of the week announced a new program to help the employed by extending unemployment benefits. President Obama quickly signed it into law. This is very much in sync with the public’s priorities for the president. And the public’s views of the most important problems facing the nation today.


Anonymous said...
November 11, 2009 at 12:31 PM  

Please Please Please be objective and begin to include third party voting in all polls. Please do not use this distinguished organization to quash the movement toward independency.

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