Poll: Obama’s gay marriage push hurts him with independents

Neil Munro White House Correspondent
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Gallup released a new poll on Friday showing that President Barack Obama’s controversial May 9 decision to back same-sex marriage is hurting his chances among independents.

The USA Today/Gallup poll of 1,013 adults — not likely voters — shows that 23 percent of independents say the decision will make them less likely to vote for Obama, while only 11 percent say it will make them more likely to vote for the president.

Similarly, 10 percent of Democrats say his decision will make them less likely to vote for Obama, while only 2 percent of Republicans say it will make them more likely to vote for Obama.

They’re small percentages, but more than enough to decide close races in critical swing states such as North Carolina, Virginia, Ohio and Florida.

The poll buttresses the predictions by traditional marriage supporters and by GOP advocates that the decision will hurt Obama’s support, even as it boosts his coffers.

“The economy will dominate everything else, but [the decision] is a net negative,” Republican consultant Karl Rove said on Friday.

The decision may also drag down the polls of Democratic legislators running in swing states and centrist districts. (RELATED: Obama snags $15 million in Hollywood cash)

Obama’s rating have been hit hard by the nation’s record debt, unemployment and high gas prices.

The Gallup poll showed that Obama’s decision was welcomed by 24 percent of Democrats and rejected by 52 percent of Republicans.

Most adults — 60 percent of adults, 63 percent of independents, 60 percent of Democrats and 46 percent of Republicans — said the decision made no difference.

Gallup’s quick-turnaround poll has a relatively high margin of error, partly because it polled adults — not likely voters. Future polls will likely provide more accurate data.

But the poll’s results are corroborated by Obama’s efforts to downplay the marriage controversy.

Obama’s effort to shift the subject from gay rights was illustrated by his campaign stop in Nevada to talk about housing less than 24 hours after he pulled in $15 million at a gay-friendly fundraiser in Hollywood.

“Good afternoon, everybody… We all know how difficult these past few years have been for this country, but especially for this state,” Obama said in Reno. “After the worst recession in our lifetimes — a crisis that followed the collapse of the housing market — it’s going to take a long time for the economy to fully recover… but there are plenty of steps that we can take to speed up the recovery right now,” he declared.

Even as he and his top spokesman try to downplay this shift, Obama and his campaign aides are using it to spur support among gays and progressives.

In May 10 fundraisers in Hollywood and Seattle, Obama alluded to the decision in indirect language that his supporters recognized without providing damaging quotes to Gov. Mitt Romney’s video teams: “Yesterday we made some news, but — [applause] — but the truth is it was a logical extension of what America is supposed to be,” he said at the Hollywood event. “Are we a country that includes everybody…. Are we welcoming to immigrants?  Are we welcoming to people who aren’t like us? Does that make us stronger? I believe it does.”

Obama is not the first president who has tried to appeal to base supporters without alienating swing voters. For example, President George W. Bush used biblical allusions in his speeches to spur religious audiences without alienating swing voters. The practice was dubbed “dog-whistling” by the established media outlets who covered his speeches.

But Obama’s balancing act may be more difficult because his decision has spurred on gay advocates.

For example, since his May 9 declaration, gay advocates have stepped up their effort to have same-sex marriage become part of the Democratic Party platform.

But if that push escalates into a platform dispute, it could prompt unfavorable media coverage at the September convention and remind swing voters about Obama’s controversial move.

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