Poll: New Ballot Wording Affects Support for Calif. Marriage Amendment

( [email protected] ) Sep 23, 2008 05:25 AM EDT

Voter support for a California marriage amendment has waned over the past two months as opposition increased, according to a recently-released field poll.

Thirty-five percent of likely voters surveyed said they would support Proposition 8, a constitutional amendment that protects marriage as between a man and a woman, compared to 42 percent who said they would back the measure in a July poll.

Meanwhile, 55 percent of those polled opposed the ballot initiative – which would effectively ban gay "marriages" in the state – up from 51 percent two months ago.

One factor that played a role in the shifting support, according to Field Poll director Mark DiCamillo, is the recent change in the wording of the ballot initiative.

The original ballot summary read: "LIMIT ON MARRIAGE. INITIATIVE CONSTITUTIONAL AMENDMENT. Amends the California Constitution to provide that only marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized in California."

But following the California Supreme Court ruling in May to allow same-sex couples to marry, Attorney General Jerry Brown took the liberty of modifying the proposed measure's text.

The amended ballot summary that will appear before voters on Nov. 4 states: "ELIMINATES RIGHT OF SAME-SEX COUPLES TO MARRY. INITIATIVE CONSTITUTIONAL AMENDMENT. Changes California Constitution to eliminate the right of same-sex couples to marry. Provides that only marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized in California."

Those few word changes made the difference, according DiCamillo, who noted that the modified ballot summary impacted those who weren't familiar with Prop. 8 more than it did voters who already knew about the measure.

The 70 percent of respondents who said they were familiar with the marriage amendment opposed the initiative 56 to 40 percent when read the original language. The same group opposed the ballot measure 53 to 41 percent when read the new summary.

Meanwhile, the remaining 30 percent who said they were unfamiliar with the initiative were opposed 42 percent to 37 percent when read the original summary but were opposed 58 percent to 30 percent after being read the revised version.

"People are generally in favor of rights for individuals," he shared with The San Francisco Chronicle. "So eliminating a right has a somewhat negative connotation. It's pulling people who weren't aware of the initiative more to the no side."

Organizers with the "Yes on 8" campaign said they are not surprised by the field poll results which show mounting opposition against the proposition. They countered that Field Polls don't always reflect true public opinion.

"For example, the Field Poll showed that support for Proposition 22 in 2000 was at 53% right before the election, yet over 61% of voters supported the proposition," stated Frank Schubert, campaign manager for ProtectMarriage.com - Yes on 8.

The "Yes" campaign released its own study that shows polling significantly understates the support for traditional marriage. The study compared 26 states where the same-sex "marriage" issue has made it to ballot and found that support for traditional marriage was under-estimated by 3 to 21 points in 23 of those states.

The recent Field Poll, released Thursday, suffers "from the same historic problem that other polls on this subject around the country have had: they do not accurately reflect the true support for traditional marriage," said Schubert.

Jennifer Kern , spokeswoman for Yes on 8, said the way people respond to poll callers could have also explain the higher opposition to the marriage amendment.

“People, when called by a pollster, tend to be more politically correct when talking to another human being than when they step into the voting booth and vote their conscience,” said Kern, according to the Union-Tribune.

The poll, based on a telephone survey of some 800 likely voters, taken between Sept. 5 and 14, also found Evangelical Christians support the marriage amendment 60 to 34 percent while Protestants support the initiative 52 to 40 percent. But 55 percent of Catholics and 71 percent of those affiliated with other religions or who have none oppose the measure.

What matters is the final outcome on Election Day, said Schubert. "It is my opinion that the same thing will happen in California when voters cast ballots on Proposition 8."