An extremely narrow majority of Washington voters say they will vote to approve the state's domestic partnership law, according to a poll released today by Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research. The pollster asked 569 likely voters in the November election if they would approve or reject Referendum 71. People in the survey were read the exact language that will appear on the ballot:
This bill would expand the rights, responsibilities, and obligations accorded state-registered same-sex and senior domestic partners to be equivalent to those of married spouses, except that a domestic partnership is not a marriage.
This is how respondents said they would vote:
Approve: 51 percent
Reject: 44 percent
Undecided: 5 percent
"It’s going to be a razor thin election," says Josh Friedes, a spokesman for Washington Families Standing Together, which sponsored the poll. "We need to focus on turning out our base. What we know is that in off-year election, as much as half the electorate doesn't vote, and the frequent voters in off-year elections are older and more conservative."
The polling results appear to indicate that support for gay rights plummets when voters face specific ballot language, and that fewer gay-rights supporters participate in off-year elections. Polling released by the University of Washington last October—in a presidential election—shows 66 percent of state voters support either full marriage equality or all the rights of marriage for same-sex couples. But today's poll could also suggest that Protect Marriage Washington, which gathered signatures to put the bill on the ballot, has successfully conflated the concept of domestic partnerships with gay marriage, which holds less public support.
Friedes repeatedly stressed the importance of gay-rights supporters pressing their friends to vote. "People may think friends are planning on voting, but they may not unless people explain the importance of approving Referendum 71 and that voter turnout is problematic," he says.