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No on 8 lead is eroding in poll

Most voters reject a ban on gay marriage but the margin is closing. Experts say the tally is hard to predict.

October 23, 2008|Jessica Garrison and Garrison is a Times staff writer.

While California voters remain closely divided on the question of gay marriage, a majority oppose a measure to ban it, according to a poll released Wednesday by the Public Policy Institute of California.

But the poll also found that support for Proposition 8, which would amend the state Constitution to disallow same-sex marriage, has gained somewhat since a similar survey was taken in late August. The latest results show 44% in favor and 52% opposed, with a margin of sampling error of 3 percentage points.

Recent polls commissioned by groups for and against the initiative have showed it passing, though most political analysts put less faith in polls funded by partisans than in those conducted by independent groups like the Public Policy Institute.

The institute's president, Mark Baldassare, predicted that the election would be close. Polls on the more general question of how voters feel about gays and lesbians marrying have consistently shown a deeply divided electorate, with voters split almost evenly and passionate feelings on both sides.

With huge turnout expected from younger voters and independents, the election is filled with uncertainties, and polling experts say it poses special challenges for pollsters.

Other findings of the poll include:

Likely voters remained closely divided on Proposition 4, a constitutional amendment that would prohibit girls under 18 from getting abortions without their parents being notified. The poll found 46% in favor, 44% against and 10% undecided.

Nearly one-quarter of voters remain undecided on Proposition 11, a ballot measure backed by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger that would set up an independent commission to redraw boundaries for legislative districts. The poll found 41% in favor, 34% opposed.

Four out of five voters said they were worried about the state budget. Fourty-four percent say they support fixing the budget gap with a mix of spending cuts and tax increases while 37% say they want to see mostly spending cuts.

The findings were based on telephone surveys of 1,186 likely voters between Oct. 12 and 19.

The Proposition 8 battle has emerged as the most expensive of all of this year's ballot measure campaigns, and has aroused strong passions on both sides. As of Wednesday, Yes on 8 campaign committees had raised $26.7 million while the No on 8 committees had brought in $26.1 million

The California Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage in May, ruling that the state Constitution's promise of equal protection affords gays and lesbians the same right to marry as heterosexual couples. The ruling overturned Proposition 22, passed by voters in 2000, which defined marriage as only between a man and a woman. By amending the Constitution, Proposition 8 would remove the basis for the court's ruling.

Same-sex couples began marrying in June. Many religious leaders and other opponents of same-sex marriage have worked hard since then to pass Proposition 8.

Campaign contributions from out of state are flooding into California -- in part because the state is considered a bellwether, and what happens here could shape the future of gay marriage across the country. Only one other state, Massachusetts, allows same-sex marriage, although the high court in Connecticut recently ruled that gays should be allowed to marry there.

Baldassare, the president of the Public Policy Institute, said his poll also found that those in favor of the proposition tend to be more passionate than those on the other side.

Sonja Eddings Brown, spokeswoman for Yes on 8, dismissed the new poll results. "Every other poll that we have seen has shown us" winning, she said, including polling released by the No on 8 side a few weeks ago as part of a fundraising campaign that showed the proposition with a narrow lead.

Charles Franklin, a political science professor at the University of Wisconsin and a developer of Pollster.com, said different polls could produce different outcomes depending on "how you ask the question."

This could be particularly true of Proposition 8, he noted, because many voters have expressed confusion about what yes and no votes mean. A yes vote would ban same-sex marriage, while a no vote would preserve it.

Steve Smith, the campaign manager for the effort to defeat the measure, had another explanation for diverging poll results: People keep changing their minds.

Although many voters on both sides know exactly how they are going to cast their ballots, a chunk of voters in the middle are not just undecided but "conflicted," he believes, on the question of whether to ban gay marriage. People are "moving back and forth on this," he said. "It's a very volatile electorate."

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jessica.garrison@latimes.com

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Times researcher Maloy Moore contributed to this report.

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latimes.com/prop8map

A detailed look

at the funding

See how much money supporters and opponents of Proposition 8 have raised, as well as who has donated and where donors live.

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