First, it’s not clear there’s been any movement that needs to be explained. The Washington Post/ABC News poll, for instance, showed 52 percent of the country thought gay marriage should be legal in March, before the president’s comments, and 53 percent though it should be legal in May, which was after the president’s comments. Polling from YouGov also showed no change.
The poll Greenwald has in mind shows that there’s been an increase in support for gay marriage among African-Americans in Maryland. That is to say, among a group that tends to support the president, in a state that tends to support the president, Obama’s comments might have had some effect.
I think that’s actually consistent with my article, which argues that presidential persuasion doesn’t tend to move the nation, but does tend to polarize opinion among partisans.
What’s interesting about this particular case is that the issue doesn’t seem to be polarizing. Obama, by endorsing gay marriage, made it, in essence, the official position of the Democratic Party. But Republicans appear to have made a conscious decision to avoid making opposition to gay marriage the official position of the Republican Party. And because Obama isn’t proposing legislation to legalize gay marriage, there’s nothing forcing Republican politicians to take a stand. If Obama was proposing legislation, I think you would see more Republicans opposing him, and more polarization around the issue.
All that said, I don’t want to overstate my general position here. My article presents evidence suggesting that presidential persuasion rarely changes the nation’s opinions and can inadvertently make things worse by polarizing Congress — which, when you need minority party cooperation to pass legislation, leads to gridlock. But
This article originally appeared on: http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/ezra-klein/post/did-obama-change-the-nations-mind-on-gay-marriage/2012/05/25/gJQAmWrTqU_blog.html