Public perception is that President Obama was being honest when he backed same-sex marriage in 1996 and 2012, but not when he opposed it in 2008
David Axelrod, a former top adviser to President Obama, claims in a new book that Obama modified his public position on same-sex marriage as a candidate because it was politically risky. Publicly Obama supported civil unions for same-sex couples during his 2008 campaign, but not marriages. In May 2012, the president announced in an interview with ABC News that his ‘evolving’ views had led him to the conclusion that same-sex couples should be allowed to marry. Axelrod says Obama privately backed marriage all along.
Overwhelmingly Americans believe that Obama now favors allowing gays and lesbians to marry legally. 68% think this is the president’s current position, while 9% think he opposes same-sex marriage and 22% don’t know.
But YouGov also presented respondents with several statements Obama has made over the years, and people tend to think Obama supported same-sex marriage as far back as 1996.
Presented with a statement Obama signed in 1996 saying, “I favor legalizing same-sex marriages”, 45% of Americans think Obama meant what he said at the time, while 38% think he was only saying what he thought people wanted to hear.
In contrast, most people (55%) say Obama was only pandering when he said in 2008 that he believed marriage was “between a man and a woman”. Only 28% think he meant what he said.
47% also say Obama was being genuine when he said in 2012, at the end of his personal “evolution” on the issue, that he had concluded it was important for him to affirm his support for allowing same-sex marriages. 37% believe he was being dishonest.
Some Americans are likely to be skeptical of Obama whatever he says, and around 23% of respondents said Obama was only saying what people wanted to hear when he made all three statements. Yet that’s more than twice the 10% of Americans who believe Obama was telling the truth in 1996, 2008 and 2012.
For his part, Obama pushed back at the idea that he had misrepresented his views during his first campaign. “I think David is mixing up my personal feelings with my position on the issue,” Obama told Buzzfeed in a recent interview.
“I always felt that same-sex couples should be able to enjoy the same rights, legally, as anybody else, and so it was frustrating to me not to, I think, be able to square that with what were a whole bunch of religious sensitivities out there.”