California voters remain closely divided on the concept of gay marriage, but a significant majority of likely voters oppose a measure to ban it, according to a poll released Wednesday by the Public Policy Institute of California.
Proposition 8, which would amend the state Constitution to allow marriage only between a man and a woman, is trailing 40% to 54% among likely voters, according to the poll. In a separate question, pollsters asked respondents if they support or oppose allowing gay men and lesbians to marry. On that question, Californians were evenly split, 47% to 47%.
Mark Baldassare, president of the policy institute, said the election probably will be close, in part because of the even split in the general attitude toward gay marriage, but also because those supporting Proposition 8 were more likely to describe the issue as important to them than were voters on the other side.
The polling, he said, "shows a deeply divided electorate."
Wednesday's poll was in line with previous surveys. Support for Proposition 8 has slipped slightly in the institute's poll since a survey last month that showed 51% of voters against and 42% in favor.
In other findings, the poll found:
* Barack Obama was leading John McCain by 48% to 39% among likely voters in the state -- a margin that was down six points since July, with most of the decline coming among self-described independents. The survey was taken before the Democratic convention began.
* An overwhelming majority, 84%, say the state's budget impasse is a serious problem, but likely voters were more closely divided on solutions. The largest group, 44%, favored a mix of spending cuts and tax increases, while 38% would close the state deficit by cutting spending. A solution that relied mostly on increasing taxes drew only 8% support, while 4% would support borrowing money and running a deficit.
* On abortion, likely voters were divided 47% in favor, 44% opposed on Proposition 4, a measure that would require parents to be notified 48 hours before a minor has an abortion. Voters rejected similar proposals in 2005 and 2006.
* Another ballot measure, on legislative redistricting, is drawing support from about four in 10 likely voters. Proposition 11, which is backed by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, would give a commission of registered voters the authority to determine state legislative districts. The survey showed 39% in favor, 36% against and 25% undecided.
Campaign strategists frequently say ballot measures that begin the fall campaign with less than 50% support face long odds because propositions usually lose support as the campaign proceeds.
The findings are based on a telephone survey of 1,047 likely voters between Aug. 12 and 19. The results have a margin of sampling error of plus or minus three percentage points.
On same-sex marriage, the poll did not reveal why the split on the ballot measure differed from attitudes on the general issue of gay marriage. But Jennifer Kerns, a spokeswoman for the Proposition 8 campaign, cited the language voters will see on the ballot, which pollsters also read to respondents, that describes the proposition as a measure to "eliminate the right of same-sex couples to marry."
That legal right has existed since May, when the California Supreme Court ruled that the state Constitution guarantees same-sex couples the same access to marriage that heterosexual couples have. That ruling overturned Proposition 22, passed by voters in 2000, which defined marriage as between a man and a woman.
The Protect Marriage coalition circulated petitions for Proposition 8 this spring in order to amend the Constitution and take the issue away from the courts. At the time, the petitions said the measure would amend the state Constitution "to provide that only marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized in California."
Earlier this summer, state Atty. Gen. Jerry Brown altered the ballot language, saying the change was necessary to accurately reflect the effect the measure would have in overturning the court's decision. The Protect Marriage coalition filed a lawsuit to block that change, but lost.
Both sides predicted an intense campaign between now and election day.
Supporters of Proposition 8 had raised more than $10.1 million as of 4 p.m. Wednesday. Opponents had raised more than $9.4 million.
Both sides were dependent on dollars from out of state, with opponents of the measure getting $4.9 million -- more than half of their money -- from outside of California. Proponents collected $3.8 million from outside the state.
Times researcher Maloy Moore contributed to this report.
To see how much money supporters and opponents of Proposition 8 have raised, as well as who has donated and where they live, go to latimes .com/prop8map.