Last week, a Pew Research Center poll showed a 5-point drop in support for same-sex marriage between February (54 percent) and September (49 percent) of this year. The result set off much media speculation about the larger public-opinion trends. Maggie Gallagher, former president of the National Organization for Marriage, leapt on the findings in an article titled, “Gay-Marriage Support Falling: A new poll reverses a years-old trend” in National Review. Others, such as Rachel Zoll at the Associated Press and Gabriel Arana at Salon, were more circumspect. Most of the articles followed Pew’s suggestion that it was too early to say what the finding means for the longer-term trends.
But is a wait-and-see approach really all that can be said about the meaning of this finding? There are two keys to interpreting the meaning of any survey that runs counter to long-term trends: putting it into context with other surveys, and examining the underlying fundamentals driving the trend. The chart below plots the findings of 33 polls conducted by Public Religion Research Institute between November 2011 and the present, including 22 polls conducted in 2014 alone. Notably, like Pew’s recent poll, PRRI also found that support dipped below 50 percent in two of these polls (with ending field dates of May 18 and August 15) in the past year.