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Marriage Equality: Can Polling Tell Us What It Means for Obama?

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In the wake of Obama's recent announcement on marriage equality, a few outlets have tried to identify how, if at all, voters might react in November. And while polls show the issue might affect how some vote, all three outlets found this to be far more true of Republicans. But Obama's support is already in the single digits with Republicans. How much less likely to vote for him can Republicans be? To me, these results confirm that fewer voters are truly likely to change their vote than the resulting coverage might suggest.

In last week's Gallup poll, a majority (60 percent) said the President's announcement wouldn't make a difference in their vote. Of those remaining, more say Obama's position makes them less likely to vote for him than more likely, with Republicans disproportionately in the "less likely" camp (52 percent). Yet Obama doesn't have much support to lose with Republicans, as in Gallup's other recent polling Obama doesn't even garner double-digit support.

Pew, in this survey, also shows about half (52 percent) say the President's announcement won't change their vote. Republicans, again, are far more likely to say they'll be swayed (negatively) by the President's position (53 percent), while independents are most likely to say it doesn't matter to them (60 percent). In past Pew polling, 7 percent of Republicans supported Obama, suggesting few voters for Obama to actually lose.

A New York Times/CBS poll from Monday also shows similarly high numbers reporting Obama's position won't change their own vote this November (58 percent no effect). Again, Republicans are particularly likely (43 percent) to say they are now less likely to vote for Obama. But only 5 percent of Republicans in their poll are voting for Obama.

This poll also created some news by finding two-thirds (67 percent) feel Obama's announcement was "mostly for political reasons." While this question is interesting, I'm not sure it tells us much about how this issue will play out in November. It's probably more of a reflection of broader attitudes of Obama, and of elected officials in general, than a reaction to the timeline and nature of Obama's announcement. (It's also interesting that more feel Obama's position is politically motivated than actually agree with his position.)

As Huffington Post senior polling editor Mark Blumenthal showed here, attitudes toward marriage are moving quickly and steadily in just one direction. Former President Bush's own pollster agreed in his recent memo, found here. We're unlikely to see a reverse of this trend before November, no matter what either candidate says.

But changing views toward gay marriage doesn't make it a vote driver, and measuring its ability to move votes is more complex than asking a single question. Internal polling for candidates would include far more breadth (comparing the impact of a series of issues), and depth (adding multivariate analysis to glean respondents' views). In my view, this debate is more likely to increase voter enthusiasm and turnout for both candidates, than it will move voters from one column to the other.

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