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At the root of change: a personal connection to someone who is LGBT. The number of Americans who say they have a close friend or family member who is gay or lesbian rose from 22 percent in 1993 to 65 percent today. Again, millennials lead the way: 71 percent say they have a close friend or relative who is gay or lesbian.
"We looked at the power this has over views toward social policy issues," said Jones, and found that the two related factors — age and social connection — "overlap to create a different worldview of ‘normalcy.’ "
And those with personal ties to an LGBT person are almost twice as likely to favor same-sex marriage (63 percent to 36 percent against). PRRI reports: "This ‘family and friends’ effect is present across all major demographic, religious and political groups."
Republicans with personal ties are doubly likely to support same-sex marriage than Republicans with no such connections: 43 percent versus 21 percent. For Democrats, the "friends and family" split is even greater: 73 percent versus 44 percent.
Political divisions remain sharp, although all major groups moved toward more support for gay marriage:
• Democrats, from 39 percent in 2003 to 64 percent today.
• Independents, from 39 percent to 57 percent.
• Republicans, from 18 percent to 34 percent.
There’s also a change in how people would like to see same-sex marriage become legal. In 2006, 46 percent thought it should be decided by the states. Now, it’s 52 percent.
The survey did find several issues of widespread agreement on LGBT issues:
• About seven in 10 surveyed say LGBT people face "a lot of discrimination."
• More than 70 percent favor laws protecting LGBT people from workplace discrimination, although only 15 percent of Americans correctly say such discrimination is currently legal under federal law.
• Roughly 6 in 10 (58 percent) Americans favor allowing gay and lesbian couples to adopt children.
• Almost all Americans overestimate how many people are LGBT. The median estimate is 20 percent of the U.S. population — four times the correct number of 5 percent.
"Americans are terrible demographers," Jones said. "We asked them to estimate a number of minority groups and every category was wildly overestimated."
Neither are many people good at projecting public opinion. Despite multiple surveys in the past two years showing majority support for same-sex marriage, PRRI finds, "Nearly half (49 percent) of the public incorrectly believes that most Americans oppose same-sex marriage, and roughly 1 in 10 (9 percent) believe the country is divided on the issue."
The survey of 4,500 U.S. adults was conducted in English and Spanish, on landlines and cellphones, between Nov. 12 and Dec. 18. It has a margin of error of plus or minus 1.7 percentage points.
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