Strong claimed support for same sex marriage

Published by: Richard Colwell


At a topline level it appears that the same sex marriage referendum should pass relatively easily. When asked directly how they would vote if the referendum were to be held tomorrow, 76% of voters suggest they will vote in favour of the recognition of same sex marriage by the state. While currently just 19% suggest they will oppose the referendum and 5% are undecided. Among under 35 year olds support is almost universal at more than 85%, and this reduces among those in older age groups.

However we have seen in the past, for example at the recent Children’s referendum and the Seanad referendum, that early indications of how people will vote at referendum can be somewhat unreliable, if the figures are simply reported at face value without any further investigation. Some way out from both these referendums it appeared from simply asking people how they would vote that they would be passed. The reality was that as the campaign unfolded and voters began to seriously consider the issues and arguments on both sides, that there minds were swayed from the initial acceptance of change, to question the need for change and rather retain the status quo.

The ease and degree with which a voter’s mind changes during a referendum may appear at first light to be a little strange; but the reality is that most people don’t spend a lot of time seriously considering how they will vote, until the vote is almost upon them. When voters do seriously begin to engage with the topic as the campaign begins in earnest, it is also far easier to attack any change to the status quo and sow seeds of doubt about the wisdom of change, than it is to defend the benefits of change. As such it is most likely that the No camp will gain support as the campaign continues and the Yes camp lose support.

Often the change occurs because a lot of voters are undecided when early polls are taken. This was certainly the case when we looked at the Seanad referendum last year. Many of those who were undecided at the time of polling, were eventually persuaded during the campaign to retain the status quo, and as such voted no on the day.

We don’t quite have that situation with todays Same Sex Referendum Poll, as the level of undecided voters in this case is relatively low at just 5%. Instead the question we need to ask with this poll, is just how committed those who currently claim they will vote yes really are, and how likely or possible it is that they might change their mind.

In order to understand the underlying views of voters around this sometimes emotive topic we need to look a little deeper than simple vote intention this far out from the referendum. To do this, as well as asking how people will vote in the referendum, we also asked their underlying attitudes towards Same Sex Marriage.

The responses to these attitudinal questions suggest that the Yes vote at this stage may actually be weaker than the topline findings suggest. Just over 2 in 5 of those voters who currently say they are likely to vote Yes in support of Same Sex Marriage in a referendum, claim that they believe in equal rights for gay couples, but at the same time admit to having some reservations about same sex marriage.

At the same time 40% of those claiming they currently plan to vote Yes in support of Same Sex Marriage, also suggest that they have some reservations about adoption by gay couples. While adoption is not actually relevant to the referendum itself, as it is not affected by the result; it has already been raised by those opposing same sex marriage and is likely to be used by the No camp to cast doubts among some voters among voting for change.

Those already claiming to have some reservations about Same Sex Marriage, are of course open to being persuaded to change their mind during the campaign. Whiles it might be taking this to the extreme, if all of those expressing some reservation or other were persuaded to change their mind during the campaign, it would mean the referendum could be in danger of not being passed. In fact, based on these findings, the Yes camp can only rely on less than half of all voters to support them at this stage.
This poll suggests therefore that the Same Sex referendum is certainly not the forgone conclusion that topline vote intention questions suggest.

Click on the link below to read a full copy of the report.
Same Sex Marriage Poll – Feb 2014