The Political and Public Opinion of Same-Sex Marriage, by State

According to polling data, this is a current map of popular support for same-sex marriage:

It is important to note that this map shows where people say they support same-sex marriage, but each state also contains a significant proportion of voters who are either indifferent or unsure.

Compare that map to this one of political support in congress and the governor’s office:

As you would expect, political support is correlated to public opinion, but not perfectly.

The distributions look quite different:

The politicians plot has more weight on the tails of the distribution, which would indicate that most try to line themselves up with the majority of their constituents.

Public vs. Political

Nevertheless, the data indicate that statewide politicians appear to be more conservative than their constituents in many cases. There are at least six places where the governor’s stance runs counter to his or her constituents’ views.

The same is true of some senators.

The only place I could find where the opposite is true - a senator approves while the majority opposes - is Louisiana, where Sen. Landrieu is careful to point out that she honors the voters’ choice to ban gay marriage. The question is, how much will this change with the incoming 114th Congress?

Finally, there’s this:

On one hand, it is not surprising that there are 22 states where public opposition is below 50% and yet one or more statewide politicians oppose same-sex marriage. This graph shows that many of these states are hovering close to 50%, so coming out in favor could be a risky political move. Also, there are 14 states where the opposite is true (a statewide politician is supportive in a place where less than 50% say they support same-sex marriage). On the other hand, given the rapid shift in public opinion, one might expect a smaller number of opponents in these states.

Conclusion

In light of these data, I think it is fair to conclude that in 2014 many statewide politicians were more conservative about gay marriage than their constituents. In some cases, though, the difference was insignificant, because court rulings superseded politics as a mechanism for bringing change to marriage laws.

If you found this analysis interesting, I would encourage you to edit the wikipedia articles on the incoming governors and 114th Congress members. When those appear to be complete, I will update the data and analysis using code I created here. In the meantime, feel free to replicate my results and expand on them.

Notes

All data were scraped from Wikipedia on November 15th, 2014. In cases where wikipedia contained two different poll results, I used an average of the two.

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