While the majority of New Jersey voters supporting the legalization of gay marriage in the state, more than half want to decide the issue themselves and back Gov. Chris Christie's call for a November ballot referendum on the question, according to a Rutgers-Eagleton Poll made public Tuesday.
The poll results come a day after the Democratic-controlled Senate approved legislation to legalize same-sex marriage, setting the measure up for a vote by the Democratic-controlled Assembly on Thursday. Christie has vowed to veto the bill and, in return, the Democrats are refusing to sent him referendum legislation.
And while the Democrats have declared legalizing gay marriage is their current top issue, voters told pollsters it is not high on their list.
54 percent of New Jersey voters favor legalizing same-sex marriage. At the same time, 53 percent of voters support Christie’s call for a vote on the issue while 40 percent support the Democrats’ position that gay marriage is a civil rights issue that should not be decided upon by voters. Even among those who support gay marriage, a majority wants a referendum.
Fewer than 25 percent of voters say gay marriage is the most important or one of a very few important issues facing New Jersey today.
“It’s surprising that so many of those who support same-sex marriage are also in favor of a referendum,” Prof. David Redlawsk, the poll’s director, said. “It may be that given several polls showing majority support among voters, supporters of same-sex marriage think it would win in November. But in the face of a likely intensive campaign from opponents, this could be wishful thinking.”
Results are from a telephone poll of 914 adults conducted statewide from Thursday through Saturday. The poll has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.3 percentage points.
While 54 percent of registered voters support legalizing gay marriage, voters also want to be able to weigh in on the issue – 53 percent of all voters support Christie’s proposal to have a referendum. This majority support for a ballot question persists across most demographic groups as well as among those who support legalization. Among gay marriage supporters, half also favor Christie’s call for a referendum, while 44 percent oppose it. Among those who oppose gay marriage, 60 percent support the referendum.
The referendum issue was raised in the context of the governor’s call for a ballot question and Newark Mayor Cory Booker’s stance that same-sex marriage is about civil rights and not for voters to decide. Given the framing, it is notable that voters with a favorable impression of Booker are evenly split on the call for a referendum, 47 percent for and 48 percent against. Voters with a favorable opinion of Christie clearly support a referendum, 66 percent to 29 percent.