Republicans in the first four states to weigh in on the GOP presidential nomination are not standing lockstep against gay marriage and largely support measures that protect LGBT people from discrimination, according to a series of GOP polls obtained by TIME.
Those fast-shifting attitudes could offer an opportunity for the Republicans presidential contenders to moderate their stances and better position themselves for a head-to-head contest against the Democratic nominee in 2016. By and large, Americans have shifted toward acceptance of gays marrying, and most candidates reflected that view in reacting to last week’s Supreme Court ruling that expanded marriage to same-sex couples nationwide.
While a few candidates reacted with fiery statements—former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee called for civil disobedience and Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker called for states to pass a constitutional amendment to undo the ruling—likely Republican primary voters greeted it with a collective shrug. In New Hampshire, 55% of likely Republican primary voters said they would accept the Supreme Court’s ruling as the law of the land. In Iowa and Nevada, 46% of Republicans said they agreed. Forty-one percent of Republicans in South Carolina, which is the most conservative of the first four states, said they could accept the court’s ruling.
Of course, that means the majority in three of the first four states remain opposed to same-sex marriage. But the acceptance is still a remarkable development, with roughly half of Republicans willing to move past the same question that drove scores of voters to cast ballots against gay marriage in recent elections. Nationally, the poll found 39% of Republicans support gay marriage and, when the question is asked differently, 43% of Republicans say same-sex couples should have the same rights as straight couples. Only 33% of Republicans in the national survey would back an amendment to the Constitution to ban same-sex marriages in the states.
That is perhaps why some Republicans did not react strongly to the Supreme Court ruling. “While we have differences, it is time for us to move forward together respectfully and as one people,” Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina said. Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush said Americans should “love our neighbor and respect others, including those making lifetime commitments.” Added Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida: “While I disagree with this decision, we live in a republic and must abide by the law.” None embraced same-sex marriage.
The next question, which is less clear among the Republican hopefuls, is anti-discrimination legislation to finish what the Supreme Court started. While the court ruled that gays and lesbians have the right to wed, many Americans live in places where same-sex couples can face legalized discrimination when it comes to housing, employment or finances.
In Congress, moves are underway to introduce a comprehensive anti-discrimination bill in the coming weeks. According to the same polls, such protections are popular among Republicans—as long as there are provisions that Americans would not have to betray their religious convictions.
Nationally, 59% of Republican voters say there should be laws banning discrimination against gays and lesbians in employment, housing, credit, education and public accommodations, such as hotel stays or restaurant service. Among Republican millennials—young voters—that number reaches 79% support. Twenty-three percent of Republicans surveyed said they would be more likely to support a candidate who endorses a non-discrimination bill.
In the crucial first four states, a majority of Republican voters support anti-discrimination laws as long as there were provisions that would allow, say, a Southern Baptist Church to refuse to marry a same-sex couple. A broad anti-discrimination proposal would have the backing of 67% of New Hampshire Republicans and 61% in Nevada.
The poll results, which are set to be released on Friday, were provided early to TIME. The study was conducted by a panel of respected GOP pollsters who have advised presidential candidates and their campaigns: Alex Gage (Mitt Romney), Jan van Lohuizen (George W. Bush) and Adam Geller (Chris Christie), as well as House Republicans’ survey mavens Brock McCleary and Robert Jones. The poll was funded by Project Right Side, an organization founded by openly gay former Republican National Committee Chairman Ken Mehlman. The other sponsor was the American Unity Fund, a project backed by billionaire investor Paul Singer, who publicly supports gay rights. Billionaires Seth Klarman, a Republican donor, and Dan Loeb, a Democratic donor, are backers of the groups, as well.
The national survey interviewed 2,000 voters, including 798 Republicans or Republican-leaning voters. Separately, the pollsters also asked 500 registered voters in each of the early nominating states their opinion, including 205 likely Republicans in Iowa, 216 likely Republican in New Hampshire, 232 likely Republicans in South Carolina and 194 likely Republicans in Nevada. Results for the full sample have a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 2.2 percentage points; it is 4.4 percentage points for the state-specific samples. The surveys were conducted June 9 to 17, in the lead-up to the June 26 ruling.
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