Why Did Californians Pass Proposition 8?
49 Pages Posted: 13 Aug 2009 Last revised: 28 Aug 2009
Date Written: 2009
In one of the most disappointing electoral blows in the struggle for gay and lesbian rights, California voters passed Proposition 8 by a 52-48 margin in November 2008, overturning a state supreme court decision that had legalized same-sex marriage earlier in the year. Although popular votes have almost uniformly rejected same-sex marriage rights, usually by large margins, the polls had indicated that a majority of Californians would vote against the proposition and retain marriage equality. Using data from 24 polls of Californians since 1985, we consider four hypotheses to explain why the polls got it wrong: (1) many respondents misled pollsters, perhaps worried that they would appear to be bigots if they expressed their real beliefs; (2) more effective efforts by the Yes on 8 campaign lowered support for same-sex marriage; (3) a principled opposition by some same-sex marriage opponents to writing discrimination into the constitution declined over the year; and (4) survey respondents misunderstood Proposition 8 and changed their positions as they became more aware of its meaning. We find the most support for the fourth hypothesis and conclude that Proposition 8 passed because most Californians oppose same-sex marriage. Our analysis of changes over time also makes us skeptical that support for same-sex marriage will increase enough by 2012 to pass a new amendment guaranteeing same-sex marriage rights.
Keywords: gay rights, same-sex marriage, polls and elections
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