During the past two months, voter opposition has increased toward Proposition 8, the state constitutional amendment on the November ballot which would ban same-sex marriages.
At present just 38% of likely voters are backing the initiative, while 55% are intending to vote No. This compares to a 42% Yes and 51% No distribution of preferences in July.
With only 47 days to go, Proposition 8 follows the typical pattern of referendums: initial support declines as voters learn more about the proposal. Supporters are not only failing to gain ground but are sliding backwards.
The most interesting part of the Field poll regards the ballot’s question wording. To accommodate the fact that same sex marriage is legal after a California Supreme Court ruling, the question now reads:
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.
Originally, the question 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.
Field exposed half the respondents to the original question and the other half to the reworded version.
The reworded question solicited three percent more opposition to Proposition 8 than the original question. However, 30% of the respondents had never heard of Proposition 8. Among those respondents the question wording made dramatic differences:
The amended summary produces a 28-point No side deficit (30% Yes vs. 58% No) among voters with no prior awareness of the initiative, whereas the original ballot description produces a much narrower 5 point deficit (37% Yes vs. 42% No) among these voters.
Insofar as undecided voters tend to be low information voters, opponents have an advantage. They just need to tell voters that Proposition 8 is about eliminating an existing right.
A lot can happen in 47 days but unless opponents become complacent, it is difficult to detect a path to passage for Proposition 8.