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Majority supports same-sex marriage

The poll found little support for Gov. Lincoln Chafee ’75 P’14, who faces reelection next year

More than two-thirds of Rhode Island voters support same-sex marriage legislation, according to a poll conducted by the Taubman Center for Public Policy in February. Approximately 60 percent of respondents said they favor legalizing same-sex marriage, while 26.1 percent said they oppose same-sex marriage legislation and 13.5 percent said they are unsure.

The poll surveyed 593 randomly selected Rhode Island voters by phone Feb. 21-23. The margin of error for the poll is plus or minus 4 percent, according to the Taubman Center.

Respondents were asked to explain their justification for supporting same-sex marriage legislation, and their open-ended explanations were categorized by the Taubman Center into 10 response types. Approximately 50 percent of respondents cited “equal rights” and 27.7 percent cited “personal choice” and prioritizing “love” and “happiness” over “sexual orientation.” Other responses included “not government’s business to decide,” “have friends/family who are gay/lesbian” and “everyone is equal in God’s eyes.”

When respondents who said they opposed same-sex marriage were asked to explain their opinions, the top answers given were “religion/Bible says it’s wrong” with 40.8 percent, “marriage should be between a man and a woman” with 22.4 percent and “civil unions are sufficient” with 10.5 percent. Other answers were categorized as “morally wrong,” “undermines traditional family structure” and “unnatural.”

Same-sex marriage legislation is currently stalled in the State Senate after passing with strong support in the House of Representatives in January.

The high percentage of state voters who said they favored same-sex marriage legislation “puts a lot of pressure on the president of the State Senate to bring the bill to the floor, but it may not be enough to pressure the members of the Senate to pass it, because they are worried about the opinions of members in their individual districts,” wrote Wendy Schiller, associate professor of political science and public policy, in an email to The Herald. But some senators may be overestimating opposition to the bill among their constituents, she added.

Last September, 56 percent of Rhode Islanders said they support same-sex marriage legislation in a WPRI poll. The difference of four percentage points between the results from the WPRI and Taubman polls is probably not significant, because it is within the polls’ margins of error, Schiller wrote.

The Taubman survey also questioned voters about their satisfaction with various state leaders and their perceptions of the state’s economic health.

Rhode Islanders overwhelmingly expressed dissatisfaction with the national and state economies, with 94.2 percent of respondents calling the state’s economy “not so good” or “poor.” Over 80 percent of respondents also chose this answer to describe the national economy.

When asked to rate the job performance of Gov. Lincoln Chafee ’75 P’14, over 70 percent of respondents described it as “only fair” or “poor,” while 25.5 percent called it “excellent” or “good.”

The Washington Post recently ranked Rhode Island’s upcoming 2014 race for governor as fourth in a list of the country’s top 15 gubernatorial races to watch in the next cycle. Analysts suspect Chafee will face a challenge from Providence Mayor Angel Taveras or State Treasurer Gina Raimondo. Taveras and Raimondo’s job performances were deemed “excellent” or “good” by 63.7 percent and 56 percent of respondents to the Taubman poll, respectively.

While Chafee began his political career as a Republican and is currently serving as the first independent governor of Rhode Island, he has previously suggested he may run as a Democrat in 2014.

Schiller wrote voters are more disappointed with Chafee’s leadership style than with his policy decisions, so if he “can project a more forceful governing style… he can improve his approval rating.”

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