Shows with gay characters, like Glee, Modern Family, and The New Normal, are helping drive voters to historically unprecedented support of gay marriage, an Oct. 29 THR poll by Penn Schoen Berland has found. Though gay TV also makes some voters more intensely opposed to gay marriage, they are outnumbered by voters who become more supportive of gay marriage, influenced by what they see on TV.
"This data would suggest that seeing this stuff makes it more socially acceptable," says THR pollster Jon Penn. "Views on gay marriage have exponentially gone in its favor since 2002." Social conservatives who fear the influence of gay-friendly TV are evidently right to fear it.
In the past 10 years, the THR poll of likely voters across the nation found, about three times as many voters have become more pro-gay marriage as have become more anti-gay marriage -- 31 percent pro, 10 percent anti.
Asked about how the shows influenced them, 27 percent said gay TV made them more pro-gay marriage, and six percent more anti. Obama voters watched and 30 percent got more supportive, 2 percent less supportive. Surprisingly, the shows made almost as many Romney voters more in favor of gay marriage: 13 percent got more pro-gay-marriage, 12 percent got more anti. (This trend toward gay acceptance squares with other polls: the 2011 Gallup poll was the first ever to show a majority, 53 percent, in favor of legalizing gay marriage, and a 2012 Gallup poll showed 50 percent in favor and 48 percent against it.)
Romney voters are five times likelier than Obama voters to stop watching a show if a gay person plays a straight role (25 percent versus 5 percent), and almost eight times likelier to tune out if a straight person plays a gay (30 percent versus four percent). If the characters Mitchell (Jesse Tyler Ferguson) and Cameron (Eric Stonestreet) get married on Modern Family -- which both Michelle Obama and Ann Romney say is one of their favorite shows -- 11 percent of Romney voters would be less likely to watch, versus zero percent of Obama voters. "Obama voters are watching and saying, 'OK, I've changed because of what I've seen,'" says Penn. "Some Romney voters are saying, 'The more I see it, the more I'm against it.'"
Younger voters have the opposite attitude: the more they see gay characters, the more they like to support gay marriage. "Views on gay marriage are totally defined by age," says Penn. "Almost twice as many voters under 35 say these shows made them more in favor of gay marriage compared with voters over 35 -- 38 percent versus just 20 percent. Impressionable young people are more open to changing their views and behavior, based on what they're watching." This effect is intensified by their greater involvement in social circles -- the views their friends exchange via technology. Under-35 voters are 15 times likelier than over-35 voters to let celebrities on the internet sway their vote, and eight times likelier to be influenced by Katy Perry.
"Of all voters, 42 percent say gay marriage on TV has made them more aware and active on the issue," says Penn, "but this skews heavily towards viewers under 35 (55 percent) versus those over 35 (36 percent)."
If Mitchell and Cameron do get married on Modern Family, 13 times as many under-35 voters say that would make them much more likely to tune in -- 13 percent, versus only 1 percent of over-35 voters. But as the young voters age, won't they become more conservative, and more anti-gay marriage? "They might get more economically conservative," speculates Penn. "But I'm not sure their social views will change."
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