Poll: Gay television characters a boon for marriage equality

Researchers found that support for equal rights was positively influenced by fictional gay characters

Published April 12, 2013 12:57PM (EDT)

Recent polls show that more than 50 percent of Americans support marriage equality, and a new study suggests that television portrayals of gay characters may have had something to do with it.

A new survey by Ipsos MediaCT found that 18 percent of television viewers aged 13-64 reported that watching the tube had positively impacted their opinion of same-sex marriage, while just 10 percent of respondents said that television made them less likely to support marriage equality. Around 44 percent of the respondents favored gay marriage to begin with and reported that watching "Modern Family" had nothing to do with it. Likewise, 28 percent of respondents said that viewing gay characters on television did not change a thing about their opposition to equal rights.

“Based on this data, I think we can conclude that TV has, at least in part, moved the needle of public opinion to see same-sex marriage in a positive way,” Ben Spergel, Senior Vice President and Head of TV Insights at Ipsos MediaCT said in a statement. “With everything from higher profile portrayals of gay characters, to celebrity support of gay marriage, to last year’s groundbreaking endorsement by President Obama, we are seeing a shift in our culture that is being influenced by popular culture.”

So while Joe Biden was probably wrong when he said that: "‘Will & Grace’ probably did more to educate the American public [about gay rights] than almost anybody’s ever done so far," the data does raise interesting questions about the important role of pop culture in social and political change.

As Salon's Andrew O'Hehir explains: "Any media scholar will tell you, what we know about the world from our real lives and what we experience on TV tend to reinforce each other, and at the level of deep psychology we don’t necessarily tell them apart."


By Katie McDonough

Katie McDonough is Salon's politics writer, focusing on gender, sexuality and reproductive justice. Follow her on Twitter @kmcdonovgh or email her at kmcdonough@salon.com.

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Gay Marriage Gay Rights Marriage Equality Modern Family Television Tv Will And Grace