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Polls Show Obama's Support For Gay Marriage Influencing Blacks

In this space earlier this month, I wrote about whether President Obama would face a backlash from African-Americans for his endorsement of same-sex marriage. (He hasn't.) I made mention of a random field experiment in which 285 black people in Cook County, Ill., were polled about gay marriage.

One group was read a quotation from Coretta Scott King, the late wife of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., in support of marriage equality. The other group wasn't. The theory was that King's comments might influence people to express support for gay marriage. But her words had no such effect.

The surprise was that race of the pollster who called made all the difference. Here's how Melissa Michelson, the political science professor at Menlo College in California, explained it:

"A black person calling a black person made the respondent more likely to support marriage equality. There's something about being called by a member of your own ethno-racial community."

Why would a small, obscure experiment conducted a year ago matter today?

Because three new polls suggest Michelson's research may have been spot on, as many African-Americans appear to be reconsidering their resistance to gay marriage.

Public Policy Polling last week surveyed blacks in North Carolina, where voters approved a same-sex marriage ban the day before Obama's announcement. The poll found that their opposition, though a robust 59 percent, had dropped 11 points since the state ban passed.

On Thursday, NPR's Eyder Peralta reported in the Two-Way blog that a Washington Post/ABC News poll found African-American support for same-sex marriage at 59 percent, compared with 41 percent before Obama's announcement.

Also on Thursday, Public Policy Polling released another poll, of blacks in Maryland, where voters will decide in November whether to uphold a new state law that legalized same-sex marriage. Fifty-five percent of black respondents said they will vote to enact the law. Back in March, PPP found that 56 percent of blacks said they would vote against the measure.

For blacks, Michelson says, Obama has made support for gay marriage "a safer position to vocalize."

Copyright 2012 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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