A slew of new polls throughout the past couple months - including one released by CNN just yesterday - have shown that more Americans support than oppose gay marriage. According to his regression smoothing, around 50% of Americans now support gay marriage, while only 46% oppose.
Anti-equality activists who say Americans don't support gay marriage, then, are no longer telling the truth: a plurality of Americans - and soon a majority as well - support marriage for both gay and straight couples.
Silver added what I believe are some very astute remarks on why these improving numbers will not necessarily translate to positive election results in the very near future:
...the people who turn out to vote are considerably older than the population as a whole, so gay marriage will not perform quite as well at the ballot booth as in surveys of the general population. In addition, whenever a position is gaining ground, its newly won support is often tentative and can be peeled away by an effective counter-campaign.
However, Silver also mentioned that Republicans will find it difficult to use gay marriage as a wedge issue in the coming years:
But Republican candidates, who have placed less emphasis on gay marriage in recent years, probably cannot expect their opposition to it to be a net electoral positive for them except in select circumstances. If support for gay marriage were to continue accelerating as fast as it has in the past two years, supporters would outnumber opponents roughly 56-40 in the general population by November 2012.
Past trends, of course, are no guarantee of future ones, and it’s always possible that the momentum toward increasing support for gay marriage could flatten out or even reverse itself.
But this does put Republicans in a tricky position. Their traditional position on gay marriage is becoming less popular. But to the extent they disengage from the issue, they may lose even more ground. One way to read the trends of the past few years is that we have passed an inflection point wherein it is no longer politically advantageous for candidates to oppose same-sex marriage, which in turn softens opposition to it among the general public, creating a sort of feedback loop and accelerating the trend.
This article is very encouraging: many of us have been saying for a while now that polls are proving our point - that opposition to marriage equality is ever-dwindling - and it seems that Silver, who knows a heck of a lot more about polling than I do, agrees.