January 8, 2014 | by Chris Johnson
Support for marriage equality in Utah at record high
David Baker, gay news, Washington Blade

David Baker commissioned a poll with Google revealing support for marriage equality in Utah was at an all-time high. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

A recent consumer survey conducted in Utah reveals that support for same-sex marriage in the state was at an all-time high last week just before the Supreme Court halted the weddings with a stay.

The poll, conducted using Google’s digital platform polling system, found that support for same-sex marriage reached 41 percent as of last week. Although the poll shows a majority of Utah voters have yet to embrace marriage equality, the result demonstrates a 13-point increase in support over two years when compared to an earlier poll from Brigham Young University.

David Baker, a Mormon and gay D.C. activist, said he ran the poll in the aftermath of the federal district court ruling in Utah in favor of marriage equality for more updated data on the state’s support for same-sex nuptials.

“I conducted the poll because the latest data out of Utah is almost two years old and it had been almost two weeks since the District court ruling,” Baker said. “I knew that Google’s tool would get me statistically significant results in a few days so I ran the poll as a private citizen.”

The questioning in the survey is based on similar polls that Brigham Young University’s Center for the Study of Elections & Democracy conducted on marriage equality in 2004, 2009, 2010 and 2012. The 2012 poll found that just 28 percent of Utah residents supported marriage equality, 43 percent supported only civil unions and 29 percent wanted no legal recognition for same-sex couples.

The 13-point jump in the more recent survey compared to the most recent BYU poll reveals that new support for marriage equality came entirely from those who previously supported only civil unions. Opposition to marriage equality also grew from 29 percent to 31 percent.

Baker said he thinks the poll demonstrates a shift in opinion among Utah voters to support same-sex marriage following the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in June against Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act.

“A 13-point bump signifies that Utah voters realize the world hasn’t ended with the repeal of DOMA and recognizing same-sex marriages is the right thing to do,” Baker said.

The Washington Blade is unaware of any other recent polling on same-sex marriage in Utah in the aftermath of the district court ruling besides the consumer poll.

Google consumer surveys are deemed accurate by statistics experts. As Baker notes in his blog posting in which he published the poll results, statistics guru Nate Silver ranked them second overall in terms of reliability and lack of bias during the 2012 presidential election.

Scott Barclay, a senior scholar in public policy at the Williams Institute at University of California, Los Angeles, said the new poll is consistent with earlier public opinion estimates on rising support for marriage equality throughout the states.

“Support for marriage equality generally has been consistently rising in the last 20 years, but current research at the Williams Institute finds that the rate of support for marriage equality at both the national level and within almost all states appears to be increasing much more rapidly in the last four years than at any previous point in time,” Barclay said.

A Williams Institute survey, which didn’t include a question on civil unions, found that support in 2012 for same-sex marriage in Utah was at 36 percent —slightly higher than the result from BYU in the same year.

Barclay said there’s good evidence that public opinion surveys that include the option of civil unions alongside marriage equality actually underestimate the level of support in the general population for marriage equality.

Moreover, Barclay said it’s no surprise that increased support for marriage equality in the new poll comes entirely from people who previously supported only civil unions.

“As reflected in the current poll result, existing research shows that support for civil unions has generally declined as marriage equality has emerged as the popularly accepted form of state recognition,” Barclay said. “Individuals who identify as conservative are the most likely to continue to support civil unions.”

The new poll includes increased support from younger people relative to other groups, which, given recent attitudes on marriage equality, could shift the result more in favor of marriage equality. However, Barclay said he was able to achieve the same result by weighting the survey for a more balanced look.

“We used a statistical technique to apply population weights (based on the current information from the Current Population Survey of the Census) to the reported survey and the newly weighted version yielded a very similar result [at 41 percent support for marriage equality],” Barclay said.

The poll shows growing support for marriage equality in Utah just as other polls have revealed increased support for gay nuptials nationwide. A widely cited poll in March 2013 from Washington Post-ABC News found 58 percent of Americans support marriage equality.

Evan Wolfson, president of Freedom to Marry, spoke broadly about the growing support for marriage equality when asked to comment on the significance of the recent Utah survey.

“Support for the freedom to marry is accelerating in Utah, as in the rest of the country — and for the same reason,” Wolfson said. “As people get to know more about gay people’s lives and families, engage in conversations about gay people and why marriage matters, and think about values such as the Golden Rule of treating others as you’d want to be treated, hearts open and minds change.”

It remains to be seen whether the stay on same-sex marriage in Utah will have an impact on support for same-sex marriage in the state.

Baker said he hasn’t yet decided on whether to do another poll.

“I hadn’t planned on one just yet as I don’t think the stay is going to influence opinion,” Baker said. “I might do one that doesn’t have civil unions as an option to see where things stand there.”

Chris Johnson is Chief Political & White House Reporter for the Washington Blade. Johnson attends the daily White House press briefings and is a member of the White House Correspondents' Association. Follow Chris

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