David Frum

03.27.13

Nate Silver Predicts Gay Marriage Will Have Majority Support in 44 States by 2020

A bold prediction from Mr. Silver, but one that thrills marriage equality supporters (like me!) who think the best path forward is via the ballot box:

[E]ven if one prudently assumes that support for same-sex marriage is increasing at a linear rather than accelerated pace, and that same-sex marriage will not perform quite as well at the ballot booth as in national polls of all adults, the steady increase in support is soon likely to outweigh all other factors.

In fact, even if the Supreme Court decision or some other contingency freezes opinion among current voters, support for same-sex marriage would continue to increase based on generational turnover, probably enough that it would narrowly win a national ballot referendum by 2016. It might require a religious revival among the youngest generation of Americans to reverse the trend.

It’s also possible, of course, that the Supreme Court decision could somehow kick-start public support for same-sex marriage, causing it to accelerate faster, or that the recent spate of Democratic and Republican politicians coming out in favor of it could do so. But one no longer needs to make optimistic assumptions to conclude that same-sex marriage supporters will probably soon constitute a national majority. Instead, it’s the steadiness of the trend that makes same-sex marriage virtually unique among all major public policy issues, and which might give its supporters more confidence that the numbers will continue to break their way regardless of what the Supreme Court decides.

Projected Support for Same-Sex Marriage in Ballot Initiative
Nate Silver ()
Nate Silver ()

Nate Cohn of The New Republic worries this won't matter in rural parts of the country:

With evangelicals slower to change their minds, Southern states should move at a slower pace than the national average. To date, support for gay marriage has increased at a roughly linear rate of 2 points per year. But it’s possible that increases in support could slow in the medium-term, as non-evangelical groups hit the point of diminishing returns. If evangelicals don’t pick up the slack by shifting faster on gay marriage, support for gay marriage could plateau. Parts of the South, Plains, and West would probably still have gay marriage bans, and the Supreme Court, despite its hopes to avoid a judgment, might be forced to make the final call.

But isn't the scenario Cohn envisions in 2020 far different than what we face today? Support for same-sex marriage is skyrocketing, particularly among the young. As more and more states take the step of legalizing same-sex marriage at the ballot box - and social scientists have more time to study the impact of children being brought up in same-sex marriages - the impact of a Supreme Court decision will be less and less.

People can change their minds for the better. Heck, it's happening right now.

I don't like to use the ballot box to restrict rights, and I vehemently opposed attempts to ban same-sex marriage. But we're on the other side of that slope. Public opinion is shifting in a way I could not have possibly imagined even two years ago. We will get this one right, and I hope the SCOTUS lets us.

Am I wrong?