Marriage on the Ballot: An Analysis of Same-Sex Marriage Referendums in North Carolina, Minnesota, and Washington During the 2012 Elections

Craig Burnett, Mathew Mccubbins
INTRODUCTION Using direct democracy, voters in a majority of states have considered, in recent years, whether the definition of marriage should include or exclude same-sex couples. This Article explores how individuals assessed three ballot measures that defined marriage in three states: two constitutional referendums that proposed to outlaw same-sex marriage in North Carolina and Minnesota, and a veto referendum that asked voters to affirm a legislative action that legalized same-sex marriage
more » ... n Washington state. We explore what individuals knew about the referendums and whether elite endorsements helped them make what Lupia and McCubbins termed "reasoned choices" on these ballot measures. 1 We find that, despite the simplicity of the measures, knowledge about them was generally poor. We also show that individuals sometimes, but by no means universally, use elite endorsements to inform their decisions. When individuals use elite endorsements, the individual must perceive the cue-giver to be knowledgeable and trustworthy. We also discover knowing a gay or lesbian person is sometimes related to voters' decisions about whether to support or oppose same-sex marriage. Our results have broad implications for how individuals form their evaluations of social policy in the United States and how these evaluations translate into votes. We conclude by considering what our findings mean for direct democracy from both a legal and policy perspective. Since 1998, voters in thirty-six states have considered the question of whether to outlaw or allow same-sex couples to marry