More Americans Would Accept Gay President Than Evangelical Commander-in-Chief, New Poll Finds

A protester holds a sign against same sex marriage in front of the Supreme Court before the court hears arguments about gay marriage in Washington, April 28, 2015. The nine justices of the Supreme Court began on Tuesday to hear arguments on whether the Constitution provides same-sex couples the right to marry, taking up a contentious social issue in what promises to be the year's most anticipated ruling. | (Photo: Reuters/Joshua Roberts)

A new study suggests that the acceptance of a gay or lesbian president has increased by 18 points to 61 percent in less than 10 years, but Americans' comfort with an evangelical president has risen only by 11 points, to 52 percent.

Less than 10 years ago, only 43 percent of Americans said they would be enthusiastic or comfortable with a gay or lesbian as president, and today that share has jumped to 61 percent, according to the March Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll.

On the other hand, the acceptance of an evangelical president has risen from 41 percent in 2006 to only 52 percent in 2015, the poll says.

While the acceptance of gay marriage has consistently risen, no other characteristic tested in the two polls comes close to the level of increased enthusiasm or comfort for a gay president, it notes.

The poll also shows that in 2003, 56 percent of Americans opposed same-sex marriage, but now 59 percent are in favor of gay marriage.

"The marriage questions and answers are about people's acceptance of vows and a personal commitment between two loving adults who are, in most cases, private individuals," says Jeff Horwitt, a vice president at Hart Research Associates and part of the polling team for the Wall Street Journal/NBC News Poll. "Feelings about the president speak to how much more tolerant and accepting we are as a nation to consider a gay or lesbian commander in chief representing the U.S. and our values."

There are divisions by party.

The poll shows that 75 percent of Democrats are comfortable with a gay or lesbian president, but only 44 percent of Republicans say so. However, Republicans have shown the biggest increase in acceptance, by 24 points, since 2006.

Age also remains a major factor, as 70 percent of those between the ages of 18 and 34 say they would be enthusiastic or comfortable with a gay or lesbian president, compared with 50 percent of seniors feeling that way. Even 54 percent of Republicans in the age group of 18 to 39 say they are enthusiastic or comfortable with a gay or lesbian president, but it decreases to 35 percent among those 60 or older.

Horwitt added that the data and the "rapid shifts" on same-sex marriage indicate that "as time passes, partisan differences may fade away, possibly more quickly than could have expected a few years ago."

Fred Yang, the Democratic pollster who conducted the survey along with Republican Bill McInturff, said public opinion about same-sex marriage is changing at a much faster pace than did the attitudes toward interracial marriage, which is now supported by 87 percent of Americans.

The poll was conducted March 1-15 with 1,000 adults, and has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.1 percentage points.

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