The ability of a President to sway broad popular opinion or change the minds of his opponents on a big issue with a speech is fairly limited, but that doesn’t mean that in certain situations the bully pulpit can’t be very powerful. The President can bring a huge amount of focus to a previously overlooked issue. A President’s opinion also has real sway over his own base and can cause members to rethink their position.
For example in North Carolina there has been a large 11 point swing in African American opinions about marriage equality directly following Obama publicly saying he supports it. From PPP:
There’s been a noticeable shift in the attitudes of African Americans in North Carolina toward rights for gay couples in the wake of President Obama’s announcement last week that he supports gay marriage. Our final poll before the primary last week found only 20% of black voters in the state favoring gay marriage, with 63% opposed. Now 27% express support for gay marriage with 59% opposed, for an overall 11 point shift on the margin.
There’s been a similar movement when it comes to the overall idea of providing gay couples legal rights in the form of either marriage or civil unions. Before the primary 44% of African Americans favored one of those with 51% opposed to any sort of legal recognition for same sex couples. Now 55% of blacks support either gay marriage or civil unions with only 39% against any sort of recognition. Obama’s words look to be having an impact.
If these results translates nationally, Obama’s use of the bully pulpit for marriage equality could have significant political implications this November.
In Maryland, a referendum on a new same-sex marriage law will likely go before the voters this year. With 29% of the state African American, a significant increase in support for same-sex marriage among this group could easily be the difference between the referendum succeeding or failing.