Interesting not only as a prediction of how the country will react to SCOTUS’s looming decision but as a gut-check on how little most people seem to care about procedural niceties, at least on a highly visible issue like SSM. It’s a core conservative belief that major policy changes are more legitimate when they’re passed democratically, signifying the consent of the people, than when they’re handed down by unelected judges. That’s especially true for changes to marriage, which, in the immortal purple prose of Hillary Clinton, can be traced to “the mists of history as one of the founding, foundational institutions of history and humanity and civilization.” I figured there’d be some small but significant chunk of SSM supporters who, while backing the concept in principle, find the thought of it being imposed on unwilling states by judicial decree so obnoxious that they’d oppose a Supreme Court ruling on the matter even while rooting for those unwilling states’ legislatures to come around.
Nope. Here’s what happened when Quinnipiac asked people if they support letting gay couples marry:
And here’s how the numbers changed, or didn’t change, when they followed up by asking if they’d support a Supreme Court ruling granting gay couples a constitutional right to marry. Big difference in those two questions, obviously, if you know your civics. Not only is a SCOTUS decision undemocratic, a decision based on the Constitution is irreversible through democratic means. And yet:
Only among men and Republicans does opposition rise meaningfully in the case of a court decision, and even there it’s a modest five points. Among women, the numbers don’t move at all. And in both cases, the topline figures are strikingly similar to what Gallup found last week when it asked Americans whether they support gay marriage or not and got a 60/37 split in reply. Either the public doesn’t care how SSM becomes legal nationwide so long as it does or civic knowledge is sufficiently poor that they don’t grasp how a Court ruling would differ from state legislatures voting to legalize the practice. Or a third option, I guess — maybe they think that gay marriage is here to stay and will never be reversed, in which case it doesn’t matter whether SCOTUS legalizes it or a legislature does. It’s permanent. Like I say, it’s hard to know if this procedural indifference is specific to gay marriage or part of a broader trend among the public in which, as our legal and administrative bureaucracies become increasingly byzantine, the population cares increasingly little how things get done so long as they get done. That would explain why Obama feels so bold in his second term in using executive action to push key agenda items — although, in that case, explain to me why a majority supports the goals of his executive amnesty while opposing the amnesty itself. Presumably that shouldn’t happen in a “who cares?” procedural regime.
Now that I think of it, maybe it’s the polls themselves that are driving this procedural indifference on gay marriage. Everyone knows by now that a majority of the country is pro-SSM; that being so, a Supreme Court decision legalizing the practice coast to coast has some democratic legitimacy, sort of — so long as you don’t care about making actual legislatures do their jobs or anti-SSM majorities in red states being forced to accept a rule they oppose. That is to say, maybe today’s numbers are less about indifference to procedural niceties than about indifference to federalism. Ah well. I’ll leave you with this unrelated but worrisome data point from the same Q-point, courtesy of FiveThirtyEight’s Harry Enten. Note the trendline in the second question. Dude?