WASHINGTON – President Barack Obama's endorsement of gay marriage appears to have made Americans on both sides of the issue even more entrenched in their positions, firing up his young, liberal backers and intensifying opposition from Republicans and conservatives, according to a new poll.
Overall, his announcement last month that he supported gay marriage did little to shift the nation's views on the subject, with the country remaining evenly divided on it, the Associated Press-GfK survey found. And people still seem to favor him over Republican presidential rival Mitt Romney when it comes to handling social issues.
Even so, the poll, out Friday, found stronger approval from Democrats and liberals for the way he's handled gay marriage over the last year and deeper discontent over that performance from the other side.
In the poll, 42 percent of respondents oppose gay marriage, 40 percent support it and 15 percent are neutral. Last August, the country was similarly divided over whether same-sex couples should be allowed to be legally married in their state, with 45 percent opposing, 42 percent favoring and 10 percent neutral.
The country's divisions — and conflictions — are clear in the voices of Americans.
"Marriage is a marriage, and it's between a man and a woman," said John Von Sneidern, a 76-year-old Republican from Fairfield, Conn., before pausing. "But on the other side of that, there are a lot of gay couples who are responsible and dedicated to each other and deserve a lot of the benefits of marriage."
The issue, however, won't shape his vote. He plans to vote on the economy and support Romney because of his private-sector experience.
Katherine Galdarisi, a 67-year-old Democrat from Sacramento, Calif., backed Republican John McCain four years ago but plans to vote for Obama this time. That's partly because she faults Republicans for not working with the president on issues voters care about, saying: "They fight him every step of the way and talk about things that don't matter, like gay marriage."
"It's none of anybody's business," Galdarisi said. "It doesn't affect me in the least."
For years, Obama faced pressure from the left to announce his support for gay marriage, and he spent a chunk of his presidency signaling that he would do just that by saying that he was "evolving" on the issue.
While the economy continues to dominate the presidential race, Obama's team was mindful that anything — including social issues like gay marriage — could shift the balance in a contest that appears close five months from the election. Even so, Obama announced his reversal and risked turning off some conservative, moderate and independent voters across the nation and in states like Virginia and North Carolina that hadn't voted for a Democratic presidential candidate in decades until Obama won them four years ago.
But the AP-GfK poll suggests that voters, at least nationally, didn't flee the president.
When asked which candidate Americans trust to do a better job of handling social issues such as abortion and same-sex marriage, there was little change from a poll taken about a week before Obama's May 9 announcement; 52 percent now side with Obama, compared with 36 percent for Romney.
And more Democrats and liberals said they strongly approved of the president's handling of gay marriage than they did in August; 41 percent of Democrats now say that, compared with 26 percent then, and 48 percent of liberals have that view, up from 28 percent almost a year ago.
But his announcement may have fired up the right against him. More Republicans and conservatives said they strongly disapproved of his handling of the issue now than before; 53 percent of Republicans said that, compared with 45 percent in August, and 52 percent of conservatives say as much now, up from 43 percent back then.
The issue could compel more conservatives to turn out to vote against Obama.
Self-described social conservative Bethel Hissom of Knoxville, Tenn., is among those who plan to back Romney and don't support allowing gays to wed.
"It's not marriage," the 65-year-old retired speech therapist said. Of Obama's position, she said: "It will probably help his chances at being re-elected. It will get the gay population in favor of that and that could swing votes to his favor. But it is not marriage."
Obama's announcement clearly affected some — and in personal ways.
Trevor Rzucidlo, a 22-year-old who graduated last month from the University of Connecticut, had a roommate who is gay, and said that hearing the president speak out in support of someone he cared about "was huge."
"My peers are just way more chilled out than older people are," said Rzucidlo, who considers himself an independent and plans to vote for Obama. "They're less concerned with how other people live their lives."
Indeed, support for gay marriage remains a more popular position with younger voters: 50 percent of people under age 35 said they would favor allowing same-sex couples to be legally married in their state, compared with 36 percent of those ages 35 and up.
Among those under 35, overall approval of the president's handling of same-sex marriage has held steady, but those who back him do so more strongly now. His "strong" approval numbers have doubled, jumping from 17 percent last August to 34 percent in the AP-GfK survey.
The Associated Press-GfK Poll was conducted June 14-18, 2012, by GfK Roper Public Affairs and Corporate Communications. It involved landline and cellphone interviews with 1,007 adults nationwide, including 878 registered voters. Results for the full sample have a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 4.0 percentage points and for registered voters it is 4.2 points.
Associated Press Deputy Director of Polling Jennifer Agiesta and AP writer Josh Lederman contributed to this report.