Pundits and politicos have long been predicting a landslide victory for Oregon's proposed constitutional ban on gay marriage, but WW has learned a new poll shows that the race is actually up for grabs.
The poll, commissioned by opponents of the amendment, has not been released publicly, but campaign officials confirmed that it shows Oregonians are almost evenly split on the measure.
Decision Research, a national polling firm, quizzed 600 likely Oregon voters in mid-July, according to Rebekah Kassell, spokeswoman for No on Constitutional Amendment 36. After hearing arguments on both sides of the debate, she claims, 49 percent of Oregonians supported the ban, while 46 percent opposed it. The margin of error in the poll is four percentage points, she says.
The new data defy most national polls, which have consistently shown that a clear majority of voters oppose gay marriage--though the gap has narrowed somewhat in recent months.
"There's this sense that a loss is inevitable," Kassell says, "but this poll shows that this is really a winnable race for us."
Portland pollster Lisa Grove, who is not involved in the campaign, says the numbers Kassell is reporting don't surprise her.
"I think we're going to have a very contested race," she says. "The fact that [opponents of the ban] are in the hunt and can simulate a situation where people react this way is very promising."
Grove notes that proponents of the marriage ban must persuade voters to amend the state constitution to restrict civil rights, and "most voters don't want to be the people who create a policy that later becomes an embarrassment."
Kassell says her group's polling confirmed that reluctance. "Even people who are not all that comfortable with gay marriage are saying they don't want to mess with the constitution," she says.
Despite the media buzz, another local pollster, Adam Davis, claims gay marriage isn't even on most voters' radar screens.
"In our focus groups, people are concerned about public education, the economy and jobs, health care--things like that," Davis says. "We've gotten more [media] calls about this issue than anything, but when we talk to people it just doesn't come up."