By Elise Viebeck - 05/14/12 09:00 AM EDT
By coming out in support of gay marriage last week, President Obama created a much wider gulf on the issue than previously existed between him and his near-certain Republican challenger, Mitt Romney.
But that new battleground holds dangers for both men, as revealed in a new poll conducted for The Hill one day after Obama’s announcement. The poll found that 40 percent of likely voters believe that the president is too supportive of gay rights. But 40 percent also believe Romney is not supportive enough.
Obama’s announcement is considered a major moment in both the history of the gay rights movement and in the 2012 campaign.
His reelection coffers are already $15 million larger, thanks to a fundraiser last Thursday at the home of actor George Clooney. There, Obama’s glancing reference to his same-sex marriage announcement was received with enthusiastic applause. An LGBT gala and fundraiser scheduled for June should also be lucrative.
But not all erstwhile Obama supporters will look kindly on his change of views.
Observers note that swing states such as Virginia and North Carolina, which helped cement his 2008 win, often exhibit socially conservative attitudes. Just last week, the Tar Heel state voted to define marriage as between a man and a woman, for example.
Large swathes of the black community have also been unfriendly to gay marriage in the past — though here the danger for Obama may be a diminution of voter enthusiasm. Very few experts believe any significant share of the African-American vote will go to Romney come November.
The Hill Poll found that about one in three blacks (36 percent) said Obama was “too supportive” of gay rights, while more than half (57 percent) said his support was “about right.”
Forty-five percent of men, a plurality, asserted that Obama was too supportive of gay rights, while that opinion was shared by only 34 percent of women. Thirty-eight percent of women judged Obama’s overall attitude to be about right.
A crucial bloc — political centrists — were twice as likely to say that Obama’s support was “about right” (50 percent) than excessive (25 percent).
Perhaps unsurprisingly, party divisions were clearly reflected in the poll. Fifty-one percent of Democrats support full marriage for gay couples while 51 percent of Republicans oppose even civil unions.
Interestingly, however, roughly one in four Republicans (26 percent) said same-sex couples should be allowed to marry.
Skeptics have often questioned whether Obama’s attitudes toward gay marriage have been a byproduct of political calculation. As an Illinois State Senate candidate in 1996, he filled out a questionnaire that declared his support. Later, he said that he supported civil unions but did not, in fact, back full marriage for same-sex couples. More recently, he famously said that his views on the issue were “evolving.”
Last week, many in the media wondered aloud whether Vice President Joe Biden’s expression of support for gay marriage forced the president to voice an opinion he had long held privately.
Voters, however, appear to predominantly take Obama at his word, with a plurality (45 percent) accepting that his view on same-sex marriage is something he arrived at “only recently.” Thirty-seven percent disagreed, saying he had held the view “for a long time.”
Asked about their personal experiences, more than half of likely voters (54 percent) said they do not have friends or family who are in committed same-sex relationships. About 4 in 10 said they do. Eight percent were not sure.
The Hill Poll was conducted among 1,000 likely voters on May 10 by Pulse Opinion Research. It has a margin of error of three percentage points.