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Why Obama's Support for Same-Sex Marriage Won't Hurt Him Among African Americans

08/15/2012 11:55 am ET | Updated Oct 15, 2012

Ever since President Obama announced his support for same-sex marriage, pundits and pollsters alike have struggled to determine what impact this endorsement will have on the black community. Black voters, whose overwhelming support helped propel Obama to the White House, are also less supportive of same-sex marriage than the general public, leading some to wonder whether Obama will lose some of these critical allies at the ballot box in November. Recently, a group of black pastors connected with the National Organization for Marriage slammed Obama, charging that his support for same-sex marriage was a sign that he was taking the support of the black community for granted.

One challenging feature of this debate is the dearth of hard facts; conventional polls only have small sample sizes with large margins of sampling error for black Americans, which limit strong conclusions. But recent polling by Public Religion Research Institute, which interviewed 810 black Americans nationwide, provides a definitive answer: there is no indication that Obama's position on same-sex marriage will significantly influence black voters' decision this November.

Three findings signal that efforts to leverage this issue to galvanize the black community against Obama are likely to be unsuccessful: continued overwhelming support for Obama among black voters, the fact that same-sex marriage is a very low-priority issue for black Americans, and -- the most direct evidence at all -- most black Americans who are aware of Obama's support for same-sex marriage also approve of his position.

Firstly, there is no evidence that Obama's support has slipped among the black community since his announcement. Public Religion Research Institute's recent July poll found that an overwhelming majority of black voters (87 percent) say they would vote for Obama if the election were held today. Only 3 percent say they would vote for Mitt Romney, while 10 percent say they did not know or refused the question. Similarly, 9-in-10 (91 percent) black voters say that they hold a favorable view of Obama, compared to only 14 percent who say that they hold a favorable view of Romney.

Second, same-sex marriage has always been a low-priority political issue for black Americans, who are, like other Americans, focused primarily on the economy this election season. Fewer than 1-in-5 (18 percent) black Americans cite same-sex marriage as a critical issue facing the country, compared to 71 percent who say the same of the economy. Although the black pastors' new campaign might suggest that this issue has more traction within a religious context, fewer than half (47 percent) of black Americans say that their clergy discusses the issue of homosexuality sometimes or often. Notably, more than 7-in-10 (71 percent) black Americans say that it's possible to disagree with their church's teaching on the issue of homosexuality and still be considered a good Christian, suggesting that black Americans in the pews are not necessarily taking their cues on this issue from clergy or official church positions.

Finally, the PRRI poll shows that of the two-thirds (68 percent) of black Americans who are aware of Obama's support for same-sex marriage, a solid majority (60 percent) say they approve of his position. This may seem counterintuitive, given that 53 percent of black Americans oppose allowing gay and lesbian couples to marry legally, while 43 percent are in favor. But this differential is one more indicator of the unshakability of Obama's support within the black community.

The question of whether President Obama's support for same-sex marriage will affect his support among black voters is liable to come up periodically between now and Election Day. But the answer to that question will likely be the same as it is today, three months after Obama's announcement. Despite the fact that there is some dissonance between Obama's position and where black Americans are overall on this issue, there is simply no evidence it is driving a wedge between Obama and black voters.

This article was originally posted at Dr. Robert P. Jones' blog, Figuring Faith, at the Washington Post's On Faith section.