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The Blue & Gray Press | August 18, 2019

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Survey studies Virginia's views on gay marriage


A survey, conducted by the University of Mary Washington Center for Leadership and Media Studies, concluded that the Commonwealth of Virginia continues to lean “purple,” with support closely divided between Democrats and Republicans on a wide range of social and economic issues, including the question of legalizing gay marriage.

The purpose for the survey was to help inform Virginians about the public opinion in the Commonwealth during a time of many changes, including a potential 2014 Senate race between Senator Mark Warner (D) and Governor Bob McDonnell (R).

According to the survey data, Warner received 51 percent support, while McDonnell received 35 percent. The survey responses were compiled from a sample of 1,004 Virginia residents 18 and older.

The survey also looked at a potential Virginia Governor race between Attorney Ken Cuccinelli (R) and Terry McAuliffe (D), in which McAuliffe was found to receive 38 percent of support, compared to 37 percent for Cuccinelli.

“This is a state that was reliably Republican for Presidential elections for years, and then in 2008, and again in 2012, the Democrats were able to win the state,” said Professor of Political Science and International Relations Farnsworth, a chair of the American Political Science Association and former reporter for the Kansas City Star.

The survey, which included questions regarding President Barack Obama’s performance, taxes and public interests, reasserted Virginia’s presence as a purple state, a state almost evenly divided between Democrats and Republicans, with a majority of opinions veering to both sides of the aisle.

While there was still a high level of support for conservative causes, such as capital punishment (with 65 percent of surveyors in support), the starkest change in public opinion has been on the timely issue of legalizing gay marriage.

“What we’re seeing here is Virginia is really a state for independence; it’s clearly a matter of purple state politics,” said Farnsworth.

In the demographics of gender, region and age Farnsworth said, “What you can find on the gay marriage question is a lot of divisions within the state.”

The large jump in support of gay marriage, according to Farnsworth, is nothing short of astonishing. “In 2006, the voters in Virginia passed a Constitutional Amendment to ban gay marriage, and they did so by a 57-to-43 margin,” said Farnsworth. “And what you look at this survey and see is basically the state is now divided 50/50 on the legalization of gay marriage.”

While the increase in support for gay marriage is important to note, Farnsworth also looked at the reasons for this radical change, and found two that were significant.

“The first reason is just generational replacement; young people are overwhelmingly for gay marriage, older people are generally opposed. And as time passes, you’re seeing more young people in the electorate,” said Farnsworth. “The second thing is the growing number of people in Virginia who aren’t from the South.”

Farnsworth believes that the coverage of the Supreme Court case for the Defense of Marriage Act has also played a role.

“The shift in the state is going on in the middle of a national debate,” said Farnsworth.

While the numbers are trending in favor of gay marriage in the state, that the numbers lag when compared to the support of other states across the nation. Politicians from the right have not shifted their positions on gay marriage in Virginia, but they’re far less vocal about it, according to Farnsworth.

“I don’t know that a lot of Republicans have changed their position, but they’re talking about it a lot less. In part, it’s because they don’t think it’s a winning hand to bring up the gay marriage issue. To me – it’s the silence that’s deafening,” said Farnsworth.

In addition to this survey, the Center for Leadership and Media Studies hosts several on-campus events and programs to put students in contact with the political process.

“One of our main emphases is bring politics to campus and bringing students to politics. The Center is very much about making it easier for students to find where they fit in to the political system,” said Farnsworth.