Virtually Every Demographic Group Now Supports Gay Marriage

While Ireland votes to legalize gay marriage, Gallup polling shows dramatic shifts toward support in U.S. over past two decades.

Protesters hold a pro-gay rights flag outside the US Supreme Court on April 25, 2015, countering the demonstrators who attended the March For Marriage in Washington, DC. (PAUL J. RICHARDS/AFP/Getty Images)

With the Supreme Court nearing its historic ruling on same-sex marriage, recent Gallup polling shows a remarkably broad-based public shift toward support of such unions.

Earlier this month, Gallup reported that 60 percent of all adults agreed that "marriages between same-sex couples should ... be recognized by the law as valid." That was the most support the Gallup Poll has ever recorded for same-sex marriages, and more than double the 27 percent who endorsed such marriages when Gallup first asked the question in 1996.

As striking as the depth of this opinion shift is its breadth. While support for same-sex marriage still varies across key demographic lines—young Americans, for instance, are more supportive than older Americans—all groups have moved toward greater acceptance since Gallup's March 1996 survey. In 1996, same-sex marriage did not draw majority support from any major group that Gallup measured. Now it registers majority support from virtually every significant component of the American electorate.

Gallup's initial 1996 survey took place during the same year President Bill Clinton signed the Defense of Marriage Act, which prevented the federal government from recognizing same-sex marriages and allowed states to deny recognition to unions performed in other states. (The Supreme Court has since struck down part of the law.)

As the chart below demonstrates, Gallup's surveys show that from 1996 through 2015, support for same-sex marriage has increased by at least 30 percentage points among virtually every major group in the population: men and women, whites and all nonwhites, whites with and without college education, adults at all ages, and those on all rungs of the income ladder.

Janie Boschma

In only three groups did support for same-sex marriage increase by fewer than 30 percentage points since 1996: African-Americans (up 26 percentage points), Southerners (up 25), and Republicans (up only 21). Conversely, the biggest gains in support have occurred among Democrats (up 43 percentage points), those who live in the West (up 42), Midwesterners (up 39), and those aged 50 to 64 (also up 39).

In absolute terms, the latest poll shows the greatest support for same-sex unions among young adults aged 18 to 29 (78 percent), Democrats (76 percent support), Hispanics (72 percent), and people who live in the West (68 percent). It records the lowest absolute support among African-Americans (49 percent), Southerners (48 percent), those aged 65 or older (47 percent), and Republicans (37 percent). The only other group that did not register majority support for gay marriage in the latest Gallup survey was the cohort of people who attend church at least weekly (also only 37 percent).

Gay marriage also now draws support not only from 66 percent of single adults, but a solid 56 percent majority of married couples. (Comparisons to 1996 for these groups are not available because Gallup did not ask about church attendance or marital status in that earlier survey.)

Though some clear fissures remain—primarily along these religious lines—Gallup's results, like other recent polls, suggest the big story on same-sex marriage is the increasing convergence of attitudes across the generational, racial, and income lines that separate Americans on so many other issues.

Janie Boschma contributed to this article