Pundits have loved using shit polls to claim that young republicans are just like other young people on the issue of same sex marriage. Over the last eight years, the General Social Surveys show that an overwhelming majority of non-Republicans have come to support marriage rights for same sex couples–from 44% support in 2004 to 64% support in 2012. Republicans, however, have been left behind. They did liberalize, from 15% support to just under 30% support—and the contention by pundits is that most of this movement is among the young. Still the gap between Republicans and real Americans grew from 28% in 2004 to 34% in 2012.
So, let’s look a bit more closely at the 2012 General Social Survey to figure out what the real story is…..As you can see, plotted out by age groups, younger people are substantially more supportive of marriage rights than are older people. Only 32% of respondents over age 65 support marriage, while 66% of people under 30 are pro-marriage. And, the age differences are present for both Republican identifiers as well as people who are not republicans (including both independents and Democrats). But, are young Republicans more similar to their age peers who are not Republicans? If you look at all respondents, there is a bigger gap between the oldest Republicans and their age-peers—16% versus 41%—than among the under 30s, where support is 52% for Republicans and 71% for other Americans. But, let’s note that the gap is nearly 20% even in the youngest age groups—and young Republicans’ support is about what is found among non-Republicans who are 51-65.
Since the Republican Party is virtually all-white, and African Americans have lower support for marriage rights, it is useful to think about how that may influence the gap across age groups. So, above I also compare white Republicans to other whites. The differences are telling. First, you can see that what few non-white young people are in the Republican party tend to be more liberal on sexuality issues—support among young white Republicans falls to 48%. Predictably, support is higher among white non-Republicans, rising to 77% and increasing the gap in the youngest age group to 29%. The Republican-Real American gap in the oldest age group is 26%. Notably, young Republicans chart support for same sex marriage that is less than 6% higher than non-Republicans over the age 65. White Republicans under age 30 are substantially and significantly less supportive of marriage rights than are non-Republicans who are 51-65 years old (48% compared to 60%). So, it does not appear to be the case that young Republicans are becoming more like other young people. They have liberalized compared to their Republican forebears, but they remain just as different from other Americans as the old Republicans–if not more so.