Posted on February 8, 2012 at 6:31 PM
SEATTLE -- There's no doubt about it gay marriage is a divisive issue. If there's a referendum our latest KING 5 poll finds 47 percent would support gay marriage and 46 percent would reject. That's within the margin of error.
It's the kind of issue that motivates voters on both sides and it's not clear which candidates might come out ahead.
When it comes to gay marriage there's a distinct difference between the candidates for governor.
"It is the right thing for the state of Washington," said Democratic gubernatorial candidate Jay Inslee.
"Let's recognize that traditional marriage has been the concept of marriage for human history," said Republican gubernatorial candidate Rob McKenna.
Republican Rob McKenna says it should be up to a public vote. And that's likely going to happen in November.
"It actually could serve to motivate elements within both parties," said Reed Davis from Seattle Pacific University.
Former King County Republican Party chair Reed Davis says a ballot measure will draw social conservatives benefitting McKenna. At the same time, it will also energize Democrats to Inslee's advantage.
A recent KING 5 poll finds, among Democrats, 67 percent tell Survey USA, they'll approve a gay marriage referendum.
But among Republicans, only 22 percent support gay marriage.
Davis says that explains why McKenna has to be careful.
"Those religious conservatives will walk, they will just say, we don't care who wins, if no one stands up for our issues, we quit," said Davis.
If voters decide on the governor's race based on the economy and state budget--
McKenna does better in our poll--A 9 percent advantage.
Who's stronger on education? Voters say McKenna, by five points.
But when asked, which candidate better reflects your position on social issues--it's Inslee with a three percent advantage.
Political consultant and former Democratic party chair Paul Berendt says it's not that a gay marriage referendum would impact voter turnout.
"It won't be that significant because historically, this is a major turnout year. It's how it affects people who will be turning out for president, who get thinking, oh, by the way, there's this other issue, on the ballot, that's really going to make a difference," said Berendt.
Gay marriage may help Inslee solidify his Democratic base, but among Independents they are split on this issue.
So it really comes down to how are people going to decide on the governor's race?
By November, will social issues play a role in how people perceive the candidates? Or, is it all going to be about the economy?