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The Obama Effect?: Black Americans’ Views on Same-sex Marriage
Amelia Thomson-DeVeaux,
05.21.2012
Topics: LGBT

Less than two weeks after President Obama announced that he supports same-sex marriage, the NAACP’s board released a resolution supporting same-sex marriage. Like Obama’s endorsement, the NAACP’s decision was a largely symbolic move that could, nevertheless, have an impact on the black community’s views on the issue.

In a statement, Roslyn M. Brock, the Chairman of the Board of Directors of the NAACP explained, “The mission of the NAACP has always been to ensure the political, social and economic equality of all people. We have and will oppose efforts to codify discrimination into law.”

Although the NAACP’s resolution will have no direct impact on public policy, it could speed a change in public opinion among black Americans, majorities of whom oppose same-sex marriage. Since Obama’s announcement, there has already been evidence of a shift in opinion among black Americans, according to analysis by political scientists Lynn Vavreck and Ryan Enos. They observe that although “very little of interest” has taken place in public opinion since Obama’s announcement, there has been some noteworthy movement among black Americans:

When we look at how many people are changing – moving off of their initial position to a different one – we find no change in the number of African Americans moving pre and post announcement.  About 12-15% are switching their positions regardless of whether we interview them after Obama’s support of the policy or before.  But – and here’s the most interesting tidbit – if you changed your opinion before the announcement, there was a 50-50 change you were moving in either direction.  But of those who changed after his announcement, 85% moved toward the more supportive position.  While there are very few cases to evaluate in the one week after the interview, the result is still statistically distinguishable from zero.

In other words, among the people who are already changing their minds on same-sex marriage – toward support or opposition – President Obama’s announcement appears to have dramatically increased the likelihood that black Americans would move toward a supportive position. The authors note, “Most people did not change their opinion after Obama’s support of gay marriage, but among those who did, blacks were far more likely to move toward Obama’s position than were whites.” Not an earth-shattering transformation, but a change nevertheless.

Time, though, is likely to bring a more sizeable shift on perceptions of same-sex marriage within the black community, given black Millennials’ levels of support. PRRI’s 2012 Millennial Values Survey, which was jointly conducted with Georgetown University’s Berkley Center for Religion, Peace & World Affairs, found that younger (age 18-24) blacks and black Protestants are both significantly more likely to support same-sex marriage than black Americans or black Protestants overall. For more on generational divisions on same-sex marriage within the black community, check out our blog.