COMMENTARY | There are many factors that could go into a stand on gay marriage: race and ethnicity, gender, income, other than the obvious party affiliation measure. But age and where you live could matter more than most of those other variables.
"OK, who wants to talk about gay marriage?" I ask my American Experience class. Though the reading is short (Proposition 8 from the 2008 election in California is only a sentence or two), no one wants to talk about it. It's such a polarizing topic, especially in a small Southern town.
"Well let's see who supports it and who opposes it," I continue. "Let's look for patterns."
When it comes to someone else's opinion, my students, just like most Americans, become more comfortable with the topic. It seems more abstract and less personal.
Survey USA's 2008 generic look at age showed few differences. But Andrew Kohut of the Pew Research Center, in an interview with NPR, revealed that age is actually an important determinant of your gay marriage position. And in this research, younger people are more likely to be pro-gay marriage.
Other research confirms this view that age and residence matters. The title of the News Observer publication reads "Amendment on gay marriage divides young and old, rural and urban." It focused on the battle over banning gay marriage in North Carolina. Predictably, it claimed that older voters disliked gay marriage while younger voters accepted it. At the same time, rural voters shied away from gay marriage support while urban voters were more open to it.
But it's not so simple. When polls are released (like this 2012 Field Poll), they divide younger voters from older ones, and pit rural against urban. There are some differences, but it isn't so pronounced. But analysis from a Proposition 8 Field Poll is more revealing.
We've heard a lot about how there is a divide between whites and blacks on gay marriage, but there was no difference on this issue in that poll. Differences between the sexes on the issue were not so apparent. Sure there were partisan and ideological differences, but if anyone thought this would weaken Obama's support in California, they were wrong. In fact, Obama won the state by the biggest margin for a Democrat in recent history, easily eclipsing Kerry's numbers from 2004.
Only two age groups in California back then clearly rejected Proposition 8: those who were 18-29 (55%) and those who were 50-64 (57%). Other groups (30-39, 40-49, 65 and older) were more supportive of Proposition 8.
Similarly, a rural-urban divide alone doesn't cut it. Los Angeles and San Francisco overwhelmingly rejected Proposition 8, but other areas (Central Valley, Other Northern California, Other Southern California) supported the ban on gay marriage. If you lived in San Diego, you voted against gay marriage, while if you lived in a rural county near Nevada, you supported gay marriage.
That's why I said your support depends on your Zip Code; a simple age difference and urban-rural divide doesn't work for explaining the results. What this Field Poll reveals is that your support may have more to do with your peer group and neighbors, and a desire to conform to the prevailing trends.