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Open Access Publications from the University of California

The Evolution of Attitudes on Same-Sex Marriage in California and the U.S.

  • Author(s): Daniels, R. Steven
  • et al.

This article focuses on the impact of morality politics and issue framing on attitudes toward same-sex marriage.  The comparative data come from California surveys by the Public Policy Institute of California and national surveys by the Pew Research Center and the National Opinion Research Center between 2005 and 2013.

Issue framing has played a critical role in the debate on same-sex marriage.  Same-sex marriage appears driven by issue framing about morality politics, which, unlike other policy arenas characterized by high information costs and limited access, features conflict over fundamental values. Much of the debate has turned on a conflict between traditional morality and equality.  The rise of competitive issue frames suggests that political conflict and public attitudes toward same-sex marriage should reflect, at least in part, the factors noted by Haider and Markel: ideology, party competitiveness, and partisanship.

Support for same-sex marriage has increased in both the U.S. and California, although support is stronger in California by about five percent.  Using logistic regression, the strongest direct explanatory factors were similar to those at the U.S. level: partisanship, ideology, Protestant religious affiliation, and whether the respondent classified him or herself as born again.  A range of demographic, political, social, regional, and time factors has also had a significant effect on support.  The relevant influence of the factors was virtually identical in both California and at the national level with the correlation between the changes in odds ratios for the two analyses reaching 0.97.

Overall, increased support for same-sex marriage appears to be a permanent shift in the political landscape and reflects a shift in the dominant issue frame of the policy debate.

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