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How do Americans feel about gay marriage?

According to recent Gallup data, Americans are split on legalized same-sex marriage. How might the issue play out among voters this election year?

Stacey Vanek Smith: President Obama made waves yesterday when he announced his support of gay marriage. And a Gallup poll published this week found that half of Americans now support allowing same-sex couples to wed as well. That brings us to our weekly Attitude Check, a partnership with Gallup. Frank Newport is Gallup's editor-in-chief, he joins us now. Good morning, Frank.

Frank Newport: Good morning.

Vanek Smith: So tell me, what were the results of this poll?

Newport: Well we asked basically about legalized same-sex marriage and we found that the country is split right down the middle -- 50 percent support it, 48 percent are opposed to it. Last year it was slightly higher, but when you average the last three years worth of polling together, we find that it's about half and half. The demographics of support for same-sex marriage are very youth skewed, so as young people get older, they will probably carry those attitudes with them and the country's headed, it looks like, to have an increasing percent who support legalized gay, same-sex marriage.

Vanek Smith: Now you mention that it's a highly political issue, do we have any idea of how this might play out among voters?

Newport: Ah, that's the fascinating question. No doubt Barack Obama and his campaign team spent endless hours figuring that out before he made his decision. No, we don't. We know the economy is overwhelmingly the dominant issue. We just asked Americans what's the most important problem facing the country and 66 percent said something related to the economy. Nobody -- literally nobody -- mentioned same-sex marriage, volunteered it as the top problem facing the country. So it's not a major issue. It's dwarfed by the economy overall. But at the edges, in terms of motivating groups on either side of the spectrum -- highly religious white voters, who would be Romney supporters, versus liberal voters on the other end of the spectrum, who would support Obama. It could have an impact on motivating these voters.

Vanek Smith: And finally Frank, how did this break down by region?

Newport: Well, the South of course is the most Republican and by far the most religious section of the country. Mississippi is the single state, which is the most religious state in the country. By the way, Vermont is the least religious state in the country. So clearly people in the Bible Belt, in the South, are most likely to be opposed to same-sex marriage. But most of those states -- Flordia being an exception -- are going to vote for the Republican candidate anyhow. Elsewhere, the Northeast, those states are not religious, but they're mostly going to vote for Obama. So regionally, I think the impact of this decision will follow religiousness and politics, kind of the division that we already have there regionally in American states.

Vanek Smith: Frank Newport is the editor-in-chief of Gallup. Frank, thank you.

Newport: My pleasure.

About the author

Frank Newport, Ph.D., is the editor-in-chief at Gallup and appears regularly on Marketplace.
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