The question of legalizing gay marriage closely divides Virginians, according to data from a new survey of state residents sponsored by the University of Mary Washington’s Center for Leadership and Media Studies.
The survey of 1,004 state residents, conducted March 20-24, shows that 45 percent support legalization of gay marriage, with 46 percent opposed. The remaining respondents were undecided or declined to answer the question. The margin of sampling error for the study is 3.5 percentage points.
The new UMW survey comes as the U.S. Supreme Court debates two gay marriage cases and as public opinion nationally has shifted in the direction of gay marriage. The UMW survey results represent significant gains for legalization of same-sex marriage in Virginia. In 2006, the commonwealth’s voters approved an amendment to the Virginia Constitution to ban gay marriage by a 57 percent to 43 percent margin.
“Rarely does public opinion shift on a social issue as rapidly as it has for gay marriage,” said Stephen Farnsworth, professor of political science at UMW and director of the university’s Center for Leadership and Media Studies. “While opposition to gay marriage remains stronger here than nationally, the rapid erosion of that opposition among Virginians in the years since the 2006 amendment vote is astonishing.”
The results of the survey, conducted on the center’s behalf by Princeton Survey Research Associates International, provide further evidence that Virginia is a “purple” swing state in national politics, Farnsworth said. The survey also includes Virginians’ views of upcoming key state and national races.
While the study shows that Virginians are warming to the idea of same-sex marriage, support for conservative social policies – like the death penalty — remains strong. Sixty-five percent of the respondents support capital punishment, with 27 percent opposed. The remaining respondents are either uncertain or declined to answer the question.
“People who think Virginia is becoming another ‘blue-state’ like Maryland find little support in this study for that theory,” Farnsworth said. “The results here suggest Virginia’s continued independent stance, where the state’s largely moderate voters pick and choose among the policy positions they find appealing.”
An overwhelming majority of Virginians also support a path to legalization for illegal immigrants. By a margin of 71 percent to 25 percent Virginians support a government initiative to create a path to citizenship for workers currently in the country illegally.
Respondents turned thumbs-down on a proposed increase in the federal retirement age from 67 to 69 to reduce the federal budget deficit.
Further details on the survey’s findings, including key breakdowns by party identification, age and region of residence are found below.
Same Sex Marriage
Among those who answered the same-sex marriage question, the youngest Virginians show the most support, while the oldest residents mainly opposed. Among those between the ages of 18 and 29, 66 percent of respondents approved legalizing same-sex marriage, while 31 percent opposed; the rest were unsure.
The question also generated majority support in the 30-44 age group, with 54 percent supporting gay marriage and 42 percent opposed. The two older age groups in the study were more critical: only 39 percent of those surveyed between the ages of 45 and 64 supported legalizing gay marriage, compared to 56 percent against it. For those 65 years of age and older, 29 percent supported and 65 percent opposed.
Substantial regional differences on the same-sex marriage question predominated. More than 59 percent of the residents of northern Virginia support legalizing gay marriage, with 37 percent opposed. Some 50 percent of the respondents from the Tidewater region support gay marriage, while 42 percent oppose. A plurality of voters oppose gay marriage in the three other parts of the state: Northwest (46 percent support/49 percent oppose), South Central, which includes the Richmond area (41 percent support/56 percent oppose), and the western portions of the state (31 percent support/65 percent oppose).
More women than men support legalizing gay marriage, by a margin of 51 to 43 percent.
One-quarter of Republicans support legalizing gay marriage, with 71 percent in opposition. For Independents, 53 percent support gay marriage and 42 percent object. Democrats in the survey said they favor gay marriage by a 61 percent to 35 percent margin.
As a group, African-Americans were most critical of same sex marriage, with 40 percent supporting same-sex marriage legalization and 54 percent opposing it. Hispanic respondents were most supportive, with 64 percent supporting gay marriage and 34 percent opposing. For whites, 50 percent oppose gay marriage and 46 percent support it.
Just over one-third (35 percent) of Protestants supported gay marriage, as compared to 51 percent of Catholics.
Comparisons among various groups of voters revealed capital punishment continues to receive widespread support across the commonwealth. By a margin of 74 percent to 59 percent, men are more willing to retain the death penalty than women.
A majority of respondents from all three partisan groups wanted to keep the death penalty, with 53 percent of Democrats supporting capital punishment, as compared to 69 percent of independents and 81 percent of Republicans. Just over half, 52 percent, of African-Americans support the death penalty, as compared to 54 percent of Hispanics and 72 percent of whites.
Respondents in all five regions of the state oppose ending the death penalty, with support for capital punishment ranging from a low of 59 percent support in northern Virginia to a high of 75 percent in the western part of the state. In the South Central region, which includes the Richmond area, 63 percent support the retention of capital punishment.
On the question of whether the government should increase the normal retirement age from 67 to 69 to help balance the deficit, the biggest cleavages register among different age groups. Half of those surveyed between the ages of 18 and 29 support the two-year increase, with 46 percent of the respondents in that age group opposed to it, and another 4 percent are undecided.
All the other age groups turned thumbs down on the proposal. For those in the 30-44 age group, the delayed retirement idea obtained only 36 percent support. Less than one-third (32 percent) of those nearing retirement (those in the 45-64 age group) favor an increase in the retirement age, while 38 percent of those 65 or older support increasing the retirement age to help reduce the federal budget deficit.
Another major difference in support for increasing the retirement age is regional: in Northern Virginia, the state’s richest region, 48 percent support a delayed retirement, while in the state’s poorer western region, only 29 percent want the retirement age increased. In the South Central region, which includes the Richmond area, 36 percent support extending the normal working years to help balance the budget.
On immigration, 84 percent of Virginia Democrats express support for a path to citizenship for those in the country illegally, as compared to 72 percent of Independents and 59 percent of Republicans.
The youngest group most favor creating a path to citizenship for those now in the U.S. illegally, with 83 percent of adults under the age of 30 expressing support. For the two middle-aged groups, 76 percent of those between the ages of 30 and 44 and 72 percent of those between the ages of 45 and 64 want government to develop a plan for eventual citizenship for those in the country illegally. Respondents at least 65 years old show more skepticism, but even a majority of seniors (52 percent) favor the initiative.
Support for immigration reform registered highest in northern Virginia, where 81 percent favor creating a path to citizenship for those in the country illegally, and the lowest in the state’s western region, where only 57 percent support the idea. The South Central region of the state once again occupies the political middle ground, with 72 percent of respondents from the area supporting the idea of a path to citizenship for illegal citizens.
The Virginia Survey March 2013, sponsored by University of Mary Washington’s Center for Leadership and Media Studies, obtained telephone interviews with a representative sample of 1,004 adults living in Virginia. Telephone interviews were conducted by landline (502) and cell phone (502, including 245 without a landline phone). The survey was conducted by Princeton Survey Research Associates International (PSRAI). Interviews were done in English by Princeton Data Source from March 20 to 24, 2013. Statistical results are weighted to correct known demographic discrepancies. The margin of sampling error for the complete set of weighted data is ± 3.5 percentage points.
For more information contact Stephen J. Farnsworth by cell at (703) 380-3025 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.