Public Opinion on Gay Marriage in Utah

Opposition to gay marriage has dropped to 29%. Meanwhile, 43% of Utah voters support civil unions, and 28% support gay marriage.

This analysis was performed by Matthew Frei, a student research fellow at BYU’s Center for the Study of Elections and Democracy, in collaboration with CSED faculty. The writing is mostly his. Inquiries about this research should come to Kelly Patterson or Quin Monson.

President Obama’s recent shift on the gay marriage issue has brought renewed attention to the trends in national surveys.  Survey data from Gallup, Pew, and New York Times/CBS  all show that Americans are now more likely to agree with the administration than they were just a few years ago.

What about Utah?  Data from the Center for the Study of Elections and Democracy (CSED) indicate similar changes are occurring here.  Beginning in 2004, we have asked the following question (identical to the New York Times/CBS poll) four times–twice on the Utah Colleges Exit Poll (UCEP) and twice on the Utah Voter Poll (UVP).

Which of the following comes closest to your view?

  • Gay couples should be allowed to legally marry.
  • Gay couples should be allowed to form civil unions but not legally marry.
  • There should be no legal recognition of a gay couple’s relationship.

In 2004, 54% of Utah voters stated there should be no legal recognition of gay relationships. Only 25% supported civil unions.  Such results are not too surprising because Utah had just witnessed a campaign in which voters approved Amendment 3.

Now, opposition to gay marriage has dropped to 29%. Meanwhile, 43% of Utah voters support civil unions, and 28% support gay marriage.  A majority of Utah voters began to support recognition of gay relationships sometime between November 2004 and January 2009. However, we do not have any data between those years to identify precisely when the change occurred.

The increase in support for civil unions in Utah can be seen across several groups.  In 2004, only 23% of Utah Republicans and 27% of Independents were in favor of civil unions. Now, 53% of Republicans and 48% of Independents express support. Furthermore, among both of those groups, opposition to any legal recognition of gay relationships has declined.

Among Democratic voters, support for civil unions has declined as voters move toward support of gay marriage. In 2004, 31% of Democrats were in favor of civil unions while 55% supported gay marriage. Now, only a quarter of Democrats prefer civil unions while 72% favor gay marriage.

Shifts within religious groups seem to mirror those of partisans.  LDS voters remain opposed to gay marriage.  However, their preference for civil unions has increased from 24% to 54%.

Voters from other religious groups are more likely to favor gay marriage. In 2004, 44% favored allowing gay couples to marry while only 29% preferred civil unions. Now, 60% of those voters prefer gay marriage while 27% would rather allow civil unions.
Among those who indicated that they have no religious preference or affiliation, support for gay marriage increased 10 points (66% to 76%) between 2004 and 2012.

In Utah, like much of the rest of the nation, opinion seems to be moving in the direction of support for some legal recognition of same-sex relationships. However, in Utah that shift has been largely in favor of civil unions rather than marriage.

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3 Responses to Public Opinion on Gay Marriage in Utah

  1. Paul Mero says:

    Kelly, have you thought about doing surveys using the word “homosexuality” instead of the word “gay”? I think you’ll see a difference in your results.

    • You make an important point. Anybody who does survey research well knows that framing matters a great deal. We have actually thought of doing various experiments with question wording. In this case we were trying to replicate the exact question wording on other, national surveys. And with a time series, we are now somewhat attached to this question because it provides for the comparability over time and across surveys.

    • Quin Monson says:

      Paul,
      Kelly is exactly right about replicating questions from other surveys and sticking with the same question over time to allow for comparability with our own data. Sticking with this single question over time from 2004 until now is what made this particular blog post possible.

      That said, you’re correct that changing a single word can produce different results. There is actually published research on this very question by two sociologists, Brian McCabe (Georgetown) and Jennifer Heerwig (New York University), in a paper published in the International Journal of Public Opinion Research. See an abstract here: http://ijpor.oxfordjournals.org/content/early/2011/08/12/ijpor.edr025.short?rss=1.
      Here is a pre-publication version of the paper that won a regional student paper competition:
      http://www.nyaapor.org/pdfs/mitofsky_award_10_McCabe_Heerwig.pdf.
      And finally, here are some similar findings from another blog on language: http://languagelog.ldc.upenn.edu/nll/?p=2114.
      In every case, using the word “homosexual” instead of “gay” produces attitudes that are less favorable toward gays.

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