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University of Iowa News Release


Nov. 25, 2008

UI political scientists examine support for gay marriage in Iowa

As the Iowa Supreme Court prepares to hear a case that could clear the way for gay marriage in Iowa, a poll shows nearly sixty percent of voters in the state favor some type of legal recognition of same-sex relationships in Iowa.

In the random, statewide poll of 586 voters, University of Iowa political scientists found that 28 percent of Iowans support same-sex marriage. Another 30 percent support civil unions, not gay marriage. About one in three oppose both.

"Iowans are not yet ready to support gay marriage completely, but they are clearly ready to legally acknowledge same-sex relationships," said David Redlawsk, associate professor of political science in the UI College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. "For many the idea of marriage may still be a step too far, but at the same time they are willing to recognize committed relationships."

Results, drawn from the Big Ten Battleground Poll, indicate that support for gay marriage will get a notable boost if the state's high court rules in favor of it. And, a majority of Iowa voters under age 30 are already in favor of gay marriage, suggesting that support for it could grow as time goes on.

Battleground polls were conducted Oct. 19-22 in Ohio, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Indiana, Wisconsin, Iowa, Illinois and Minnesota, home to the 11 universities in the Big Ten Conference. The margin of error is plus or minus 4 percent.

A topline summary of the Iowa results is available at

Iowa Supreme Court ruling would affect support

Because of the pending Iowa Supreme Court case (Varnum v. Brien) that will be heard Dec. 9, the poll asked Iowans to consider what the state should do if the Supreme Court upholds a constitutional right to marriage for same-sex couples.

The question provided three options: amend the Iowa constitution to ban recognition of same-sex relationships, amend it to ban same-sex marriage but allow civil unions, or accept the decision to allow gay marriage in Iowa.

Thirty-five percent of respondents favored accepting a Supreme Court ruling to allow gay marriage. That means if the court rules in favor of gay marriage, support for it increases by 7 percentage points. Another 27 percent support the creation of civil unions as an acceptable alternative.

Even larger shifts in support are observed among independents, ideological moderates, and moderate church attendees. If the court sanctions gay marriage, support from those groups grows by 13 to 15 percentage points.

"Clearly opinion on the issue of gay marriage will change if the Iowa Supreme Court rules that the state's constitution requires it," Redlawsk said. "Overall support remains below 50 percent even then, but those in the political middle become much more likely to support gay marriage if the court rules in favor."

Two-thirds of young Iowans support legal recognition

Just over half of Iowa voters under age 30 support legalizing gay marriage, and another 21 percent oppose gay marriage but support civil unions. Less than one-fifth of younger voters oppose any legal recognition of same-sex relationships.

"While only about a quarter of middle-aged voters and even fewer elderly voters support full marriage rights, young people see the world differently," Redlawsk said. "The fact that so many young voters support gay marriage suggests that attitudes in Iowa are in a state of flux and will gradually move in favor of official recognition of same-sex relationships. The future on this issue may look very different from the past."

Gay marriage support stronger among singles, Democrats

Less than one-quarter of married respondents support gay marriage, compared to half of singles. Married respondents are twice as likely as singles to object to legal recognition of same-sex relationships, 36 percent to 19 percent.

Almost half of Democrats -- 48 percent -- support gay marriage compared to 23 percent of independents and only 5 percent of Republicans. Gay marriage is supported by three-fourths of very liberal respondents and almost half of liberals. Only about 1 in 6 conservative Iowans support gay marriage.

About the Battleground Poll

The Big Ten Battleground Poll was co-directed by University of Wisconsin-Madison political scientists Charles Franklin and Ken Goldstein with the cooperation of colleagues from participating Big Ten universities. The UI team was comprised of associate professors of political science David Redlawsk, director of the UI Hawkeye Poll, and Caroline Tolbert, co-director of the Hawkeye Poll. Jim Krueger, a UI graduate student in political science, analyzed the results.

Of the 586 poll participants in the Iowa sample, 26 percent were Republican, 34 percent were Democrat, and 34 percent were independent. Two-thirds were married. Fifty-one percent were women; 49 percent were men. The results were weighted by age, gender and race to match the registered voter profile in Iowa.

For more on the poll, its methodology, a Big Ten Network show highlighting the results, and a list of poll contacts, visit

Two UI law professors are watching the Varnum case and can provide a legal perspective of the case. Both are experts in both federal and Iowa family law. Professor Angela Onwuachi Willig can be reached at 319-335-9043, or by e-mail at Professor Ann Estin can be reached at 319-335-6850, or by e-mail at

STORY SOURCE: University of Iowa News Services, 300 Plaza Centre One, Suite 371, Iowa City, Iowa 52242-2500

MEDIA CONTACTS: David Redlawsk, UI Department of Political Science, 319-335-2352 (office), 319-400-1134 (cell),; James Krueger,; Nicole Riehl, University News Services, 319-384-0070 (office), 319-430-6576 (cell),