Will Florida's Gay Marriage Ban Pass?

Here's some interesting new polling on Florida's gay marriage ban from the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute: Florida voters support 55 - 41 percent an amendment that would ...
by | September 12, 2008

Here's some interesting new polling on Florida's gay marriage ban from the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute:

Florida voters support 55 - 41 percent an amendment that would define marriage as being between a man and woman, slightly lower than the 58 - 37 percent support in a June 3 survey by the independent Quinnipiac (KWIN-uh-pe-ack) University. Republicans support the amendment 76 - 21 percent while Democrats oppose it 51 - 45 percent and independent voters oppose it by a similar 51 - 44 percent margin.

A 55-41 edge would be a comfortable margin, except that in Florida constitutional amendments require 60% of the vote to pass. Here's what Peter A. Brown of Quinnipiac had to say (in that same press release):

"The 55 percent level of support for the same-sex marriage ban is a bit surprising given that similar amendments have passed in a dozen states."

Is this actually surprising? Not really. Twenty-four states have voted on gay marriage bans since 2004. The chart below compares the percentage of the vote they received to the percentage of the vote that President Bush received in the state in 2004 (a rough measure of the conservatism of the state).

State           Year   Ban%   Bush%    Dif.

Arkansas*    04       75        54       21

Georgia*      04       76       58        18

Kentucky*    04       75       60        15

Louisiana*   04       79       57        22

Michigan*    04       59       48        11

Mississippi  04       86       59        27

Missouri      04       71       53       18

Montana      04       67       59        8

N. Dakota*   04       73       63       10

Ohio*          04       62        51       11

Oklahoma*  04       76        66       10

Oregon       04       57        47        10

Utah*          04       66        72       -6

Kansas*      05        70       62        8

Texas*        05       76       61       15

Alabama*    06       81       62        19

Arizona*     06       49        55        -6

Colorado    06       56        52         4

Idaho*       06       63         68        -5

S. Carolina*06      78         58        20

S. Dakota* 06       52        60        -8

Tennessee 06        81       57         24

Virginia*    06        57       54        3

Wisconsin* 06       59       49        10

* Measure could be interpreted as barring civil unions in addition to gay marriage.

From this gobbledygook of numbers, I can get a decent sense of whether the gay marriage ban should pass in Florida. On average, gay marriage bans have received a vote that was 10.8 percentage points higher than Bush's percentage. This is why gay marriage has worked as a wedge issue. A fairly large number of Democrats have agreed with the Republican position on the issue.

President Bush received 52% of the vote in Florida in 2004. So, if that 10.8 figure holds true, Florida's gay marriage ban will pass.

However, my chart also reveals a pretty big difference between 2006 and earlier years. For 2004-2005, the average vote was 13.2 percentage points higher than Bush's percentage. For 2006, it dropped to 6.8.

Those numbers seem to show that public opinion is shifting fairly rapidly in favor of gay rights, which may be one reason Republicans have been emphasizing the topic less. If the 6.8 figure turns out to be right in Florida this year, that means the amendment would get 59% of the vote. If a shift in sentiment has continued since 2006, it would get a bit less than that -- which is exactly what the Quinnipiac poll shows.

Then again, my chart also shows that Bush's percentage of the vote on its own isn't a very good predictor of how a gay marriage ban will turn out. Regional factors seem to matter too.

In Southern states -- Alabama, Mississippi, South Carolina, Tennessee, Arkansas and Louisiana -- the gay marriage bans won much stronger support than the president. In other parts of the country, the difference has been much smaller.

Geographically, Florida is in the South. Culturally? That's tougher to pin down.

In the chart, I've also marked the states where the ban only applied to same-sex marriage and where it was thought to perhaps have broader effects. Overall, that hasn't seemed to matter much to date. But, this is a big part of the discussion in Florida, where opponents of the amendment argue that an array of rights for unmarried couples will be affected.

Josh Goodman
Josh Goodman  |  Former Staff Writer
mailbox@governing.com

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