WASHINGTON â€“ Most Americans suspect thatÂ President ObamaÂ was motivated by politics, not policy, when he declared his support forÂ same-sex marriage, according to a new poll released on Monday, suggesting the impact of his decision was undercut by the unplanned way it became public.
Sixty-seven percent of those surveyed by The New York Times and CBS News since the announcement said they thought Mr. Obama made it â€œmostly for political reasons,â€ while 24 percent said it was â€œmostly because he thinks it is right.â€ Independents were more likely to attribute it to politics, and nearly half of Democrats agreed.
The results reinforce the concerns of White House aides and Democratic strategists who worried that the sequence of events leading up to the announcement made it look calculated rather than principled. Mr. Obama, who had said since late 2010 that his position on the volatile issue was â€œevolving,â€ finally proclaimed his support for same-sex marriage only after Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. did so first on television.
â€œIf Biden hadnâ€™t said something, I donâ€™t think he would have said anything either,â€ said Larry Gannon, 48, a graphic artist from Norwalk, Calif. and an independent, who participated in the survey.
Holly Wright, 67, an independent from Smithfield, Va., who worked in the food industry, said she believed Mr. Obama concluded that more Americans agreed on same-sex marriage. â€œHe believes it will help him win the election,â€ she said. â€œIn other words, say what the majority of the people want to hear.â€
The survey made clear that the president was wading into a divisive area of American life, one that may not top the nationâ€™s priority list but still has the potential to hurt him at the margins in November. About four in 10, or 38 percent, of Americans support same-sex marriage, while another 24 percent favor civil unions short of formal marriage. Thirty-three percent oppose any form of legal recognition. When civil unions are eliminated as an option, opposition to same-sex marriage rises to 51 percent, compared to 42 percent support.
The poll showed that relatively few voters consider same-sex issue their top issue amid continued economic uncertainty and more than half said it would make no difference in their vote. But among those who said Mr. Obamaâ€™s position would influence their vote, more said they would be less likely to vote for him as a result, and in a close race, even a small shift in swing states could be costly.
The political consequences of the presidentâ€™s announcement have absorbed Washington in the days since he made it, with strategists on all sides poring through data trying to anticipate what it might mean in the fall. Many surveys have shown rising support nationally for same-sex marriage, especially among younger Americans, but when the proposition has been tested at the ballot box, voters in more than 30 states have passed measures banning such unions, most recently those in North Carolina last week.
Mr. Obamaâ€™s team is counting on the notion that whatever he might lose in votes or intensity of support will be offset by increased excitement among young voters and his liberal base. Former Gov.Mitt RomneyÂ of Massachusetts, his Republican opponent, is banking on the idea that Mr. Obamaâ€™s position will turn off enough supporters of traditional marriage, including African Americans, to help tip the race his way.