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Voters oppose putting gay marriage back on the ballot, Times/USC poll finds

November 6, 2009 |  2:53 pm

Latpoll A small majority of California voters supports the right of gay couples to marry, but a much larger portion of voters opposes efforts to place the issue back on the ballot next year, a new Los Angeles Times/USC poll has found.

Views on same-sex marriage were sharply polarized based on political party, with 66% of Democrats thinking it should be legal and 71% of Republicans in opposition. Nonpartisan voters were less enthusiastic than Democrats but still backed it, 59%-34%.

Overall, 51% of California voters favored marriage rights for same-sex couples and 43% were opposed. Strikingly, however, almost 60% of Californians did not want to revisit the issue in 2010, just one election cycle after it last hit the ballot. 

In November of 2008, Californians voted 52% to 48% to limit marriage rights to one man and one woman. Same-sex marriage advocates have been split over whether to push for a new vote next year or wait until 2012, when the presidential contest will draw more voters to the polls than would be expected to cast ballots in next year's midterm elections.

Supporters of gay marriage are also strategizing in other states but on Tuesday received a stinging rebuke when voters in Maine repealed a state measure that had granted marriage rights to same-sex couples.

The California findings come from a new Los Angeles Times/University of Southern California College of Letters, Arts & Sciences poll. The survey, which interviewed 1,500 registered voters from Oct. 27 through Nov. 3, was conducted for the Times and USC by two nationally prominent polling firms, the Democratic firm Greenberg Quinlan Rosner, and the Republican firm Public Opinion Strategies. The results have a margin of error of +/-2.6 percentage points. Full results of the poll, including the status of the campaigns for governor and the U.S. Senate, will be published Sunday in the Times and on latimes.com.

The survey showed that same-sex marriage continues to reverberate differently along race and generational lines. Just over half of whites backed it, while just under half of African Americans and Latinos did.

All three groups, however, opposed having to vote on it in 2010. (Asians were questioned by the poll and included in the overall sample, but their numbers were statistically too small to isolate.) Young voters continued to be far more supportive of gay marriage rights than their elders.

Among those ages 18-29, 71% said they supported same-sex marriage; among those 65 and older, only 37% favored it. Younger voters were also one of the few groups who backed putting it on the 2010 ballot, which will be dominated by the races for governor and U.S. Senate.

The difference in views by age likely explains, in part, the changing results in California on same-sex marriage. In 2000, voters outlawed it by a margin of 61%-39%; by last November’s ballot, opposition had slipped significantly. Election results differ from poll results, of course, because not everyone polled will cast ballots.

-- Cathleen Decker