A majority of New Jerseyans — 52 percent — support gay marriage, according to a Rutgers-Eagleton Poll made public Friday.
Support for legalizing gay marriage jumps to 61 percent when the issue is framed in terms of “marriage equality,” the favored description of advocates for same-sex couples.
Almost four-in-10 respondents (39 percent) oppose legalizing gay marriage while 9 percent are unsure. Twenty-seven percent are against marriage equality, while 3 percent are unfamiliar with the term and 9 percent have no opinion.
“Support for legalizing same-sex relations in New Jersey continues to be solid,” Prof. David Redlawsk, the poll’s director, said. “Young people are overwhelmingly in favor, though a majority of all age groups is supportive, except for those 65 and over. Whatever it is called, support for state recognition of same-sex marriage remains strong and most likely will grow over time.”
Support is particularly strong among younger age groups, women and those with a gay or lesbian family member, friend, or acquaintance. Catholics are stronger supporters than Protestants and also more likely to increase support when the issue is phrased as marriage equality.
Democrats and independents both show majority support for gay marriage and even greater support for marriage equality, but the large majority of Republicans oppose legalization regardless of how the issue is phrased.
New Jersey adults under 30 have a very different view of same-sex marriage than do many of their older neighbors. While majorities of those 30 to 64 years old now support same-sex marriage no matter what it is called, 70 percent under 30 support legalizing gay marriage and 75 percent favor the concept of marriage equality.
“I suspect a lot of young people are really responding ‘why is this even an issue?’” Redlawsk said. “The millennial generation has clearly moved on to other issues while their grandparents hold traditional views on same-sex couples.”
While support measured with the term marriage equality is stronger than for gay marriage, by 61 percent to 52 percent, certain groups are especially influenced by the name change. Support among those who never attended college jumps 25 points to 66 percent for marriage equality, while support among men climbs 16 points to 63 percent. Women, stronger supporters of the issue in the first place, are less influenced; their support increases 3 points to 59 percent when marriage equality is used to describe the relationship. Catholics are also particularly responsive to reframing the issue: 49 percent favor legalizing gay marriage but rises to 63 percent when asked about marriage equality.
Language also greatly influences senior citizens. While opposition to gay marriage is strong among those 65 and over, with only 32 percent supporting legalization and 53 percent opposing it, results flip when marriage equality is used. Nearly half (49 percent) of older respondents approve if marriage equality is used. One-third oppose and 16 percent are unfamiliar with the phrase or are uncertain.
“This illustrates how language used to describe an issue really matters,” Redlawsk said. “While on the whole, New Jerseyans are ready to see the state legalize same-sex marriage, calling the issue marriage equality minimizes many of the differences between groups we see when gay marriage is used. Americans have a deep belief in equality as a concept. When equality is attached to same-sex relationships, it generates a more positive response based on that underlying ideal.”
Self-identified Republicans and those with at least some college education are far less affected by changing the language used to describe the issue. While 59 percent of Democrats and 52 percent of independents favor the term gay marriage, only 36 percent of Republicans agree and 51 percent oppose.
Calling the issue marriage equality fails to move Republicans at all: 36 percent continue to show support and 51 oppose. Democrats and independents, however, become much more supportive, reaching 69 percent and 67 percent respectively.
Similarly, while those with no college education are strongly influenced by the term marriage equality, others are much less so. Having any level of college education seems to minimize the impact of the term marriage equality over gay marriage, with gains of only 1 to 3 points in support among those with a college education or more.
“Republicans are clearly not moved by a change in terminology,” Redlawsk said. “This suggests that their opposition to legalizing same-sex marriage is deep and unlikely to change easily. Likewise, those with some college education, who are already pretty supportive of gay marriage, do not become more so simply because the words change.
Nearly a quarter of New Jerseyans have a gay or lesbian family member. More than half have a gay or lesbian friend or acquaintance. About 60 percent of each group supports legal recognition of gay marriage. Using the term marriage equality makes no significant difference to either group but increases support by 11 points to 62 percent among those without a gay or lesbian family member or friend. Respondents without a gay or lesbian friend or acquaintance are even more affected: support climbs 16 points from 43 percent for gay marriage to 59 percent of marriage equality.
“Again we see those with likely greater knowledge on the issue are less influenced by changing the language,” Redlawsk said. “But those who have less contact with gay and lesbian people most likely are less connected to the issue and thus more easily moved by changing its frame.”
The poll results are from a survey of 903 adults conducted statewide by phone from Oct. 6 to 9. The poll has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.4 percentage points.
— TOM HESTER SR., NEWJERSEYNEWSROOM.COM