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Policy/Law

Gay marriage not a key issue for 75 percent of California voters

by Suzanne Wu and Merrill Balassone
USC Dornsife/Los Angeles Times Poll shows that gay marriage is not a key issue for majority of CA voters in the upcoming election.
The latest USC Dornsife/Los Angeles Times Poll examines what California's likely voters are thinking. (Photo/Peter Mautsch)

Despite President Barack Obama’s recent announcement that he favors legalizing same-sex marriage, the overwhelming majority of California voters — 75 percent — said gay marriage would not be a major issue or just one of many factors they would consider at the ballot box, according to the latest USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences/Los Angeles Times Poll.

Twenty percent of California voters said they would only vote for a candidate who shared their views on same-sex marriage. Among these voters for whom gay marriage is a decisive issue, neither side appears to benefit: 21 percent of same-sex marriage supporters and 21 percent of voters who oppose same-sex marriage or who support civil unions said they would only vote for a candidate who shared their views on the issue.

Of statewide voters surveyed from May 17 to May 21, 46 percent said they believe gays and lesbians should have the legal right to marry, 25 percent said gay couples should have the same legal rights as straight couples, and 13 percent said there should be no legal recognition of gay and lesbian couples. (A 2010 USC Dornsife/Los Angeles Times Poll showed Californians supporting same-sex marriage by a 52-to-40 margin.)

“President Obama’s support for same-sex marriage has attracted a huge amount of public and media attention, but it doesn’t appear that it has changed very many votes,” said Dan Schnur, director of the USC Dornsife/Los Angeles Times Poll and director of the USC Unruh Institute of Politics. “Strong partisans on both sides of this issue may feel more intensely about Obama than they did previously, but same-sex marriage will be much more of a motivator for the two parties’ ideological bases than a persuader for swing voters.”

Overall, seven out of 10 voters, including 40 percent of Republicans, said they favored full legal rights for gay and lesbian couples. Fifty-six percent of Californians said they planned to vote for Obama and 37 percent chose Republican frontrunner Mitt Romney, mirroring long-held support in California for Democratic candidates.

The USC Dornsife/Los Angeles Times Poll also showed that a majority of California voters who support Romney in November’s presidential election consider their decision to be a vote against President Obama rather than one on behalf of Romney.

Of those who said they would vote for Romney, 51 percent characterize their choice as a vote against Obama rather than a vote for Romney, signaling a lack of enthusiasm for the former Massachusetts governor among Republican voters. Forty-four percent of Romney supporters said their vote was a vote for Romney as opposed to one against Obama.

Obama’s approval rating among Latino voters has grown since the last USC Dornsife/Los Angeles Times Poll. Currently, 72 percent of Latinos say they approve of the job Obama is doing compared to 22 percent who disapprove. In March, Obama’s approval rating among Latinos was 65-27.

In addition, California voters overwhelmingly favor the president’s approach over Romney’s on several issues, including the interests of women, support for the middle class and health care affordability.

Obama leads Romney 59-23 percent on who would do a better job protecting the interests of women. On health care accessibility and affordability, Obama leads Romney 57-23 percent. And when voters were asked who would be a stronger voice for the middle class, 56 percent chose Obama and 29 percent chose Romney.

But Californians were equally split on whom they believed was strongest on the issue of spending: 41 percent of voters chose Obama, and 41 percent of voters chose Romney.

When asked who had the right approach to budget deficits, 45 percent of voters chose Obama, while 34 percent picked Romney. Forty-nine percent of voters agree with Obama’s stance on taxes as compared to 34 percent support for Romney’s approach.

The USC Dornsife/Los Angeles Times Poll was conducted by Democratic polling firm Greenberg Quinlan Rosner and Republican polling firm American Viewpoint. The full sample of 1,002 registered voters has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.5 percentage points.

Additional results of the USC Dornsife/Los Angeles Times Poll will be released this week. Schnur also will be guest-tweeting from the Twitter account @uscelection2012 about the results of the USC Dornsife/Los Angeles Times Poll and election news.

Follow all election news coverage at Election 2012, a resource for journalists and others interested in politics created by USC Media Relations.

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