Matthew Schmitz: Youth Support for Gay Marriage Weaker Than You Think


Matthew Schmitz writes for First Things' First Thoughts blog:

Young voters are abandoning social issues and focusing on fiscal ones, the New York Times informs us in a hopeful voice. They present scant data for this contention, ignoring the fact that young voters—who through the 70′s, 80′s, and 90′s were the most pro-choice cohort—became the most pro-life cohort around the year 2000, even more pro-life than senior citizens. This difference is opinion is massively amplified by an “intensity gap” between pro-life and pro-choice young people. A 2012 NARAL survey found that 51 percent of pro-life voters age 30 or younger feel abortion is a very important issue in determining their vote while only 26 percent of their pro-choice peers feel the same way. Pro-life young people not only outnumber pro-choice young people in aboslute terms, they overwhelm two-to-one in terms of commitment to the issue, a result so depressing for pro-choice activists that it prompted Nancy Keenan, NARAL’s head, to resign.

... Same-sex marriage famously receives less support (about seven points less) at the ballot box than on opinion polls because voters who oppose same-sex marriage are reluctant to admit their opposition to an interviewer. But is support for same-sex marriage uniformly overstated? If respondents lie because they feel social pressure to support same-sex marriage, those who feel the most social pressure (i.e. young people) are likely to be cohort in which support is most radically overstated. Same-sex marriage proponents have learned to mistrust opinion polls, but have failed to absorb the lesson that polls of young people are likely to be the least reliable of all.

We find more evidence of polls overstating same-sex marriage support in yet another intensity gap that favors social conservatives. An ABC/Langer Research Associates poll found that 65 percent of conservatives reacted in a strongly unfavorable way to Obama’s same-sex marriage announcement while only 52 percent of Democrats responded in a strongly favorable way. That 13-point difference reflects a basic imbalance in the debate: opposition to same-sex marriage is much firmer than support for it, and proponents are going to have an increasingly difficult time converting those who have held out this long.