Indiana governor's approval rating plummets after disastrous anti-gay "religious freedom" bill

Published April 13, 2015 10:28PM (EDT)

Mike Pence               (AP/Darron Cummings)
Mike Pence (AP/Darron Cummings)

Indiana Governor Mike Pence -- who frequently refers to himself as "a Christian, a conservative, and a Republican, in that order" -- believed that the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) would mobilize his conservative base. Instead, it created a backlash that has effectively torpedoed the Republican's chance at a national office.

According to a poll conducted by the Human Rights Campaign (HRC), signing the RFRA has led even led to a significant erosion in popularity in Indiana. As recently as February of this year, Governor Pence enjoyed a 62 percent approval score. Since the passage of the RFRA, however, his unfavorable rating has crept up to 53 percent, while his favorable rating plummeted to 38 percent.

Hoosiers reject the idea that a business should be able to refuse service to members of the LGBT community on the basis of religious conviction by a 2-to-1 margin. Moreover -- and irrespective of their opinion about the bill -- more than 75 percent of Indiana voters say that signing it is a crippling blow to businesses. Only 10 percent of people polled believed that the bill would have a positive effect on business.

Instead of mobilizing the base, Pence's actions divided it along familiar lines -- with religious conservatives supporting him and fiscal conservatives opposing. But tellingly, even among those respondents who identified as observant Christians, 58 percent believed that discrimination on religious grounds should not be allowed.

The local response to the RFRA tracks with national opinion. As Amy E. Black, a political science professor at Wheaton College, told The Indianapolis Star, "the national shift in views of gay rights has been lightning fast. Positions which were mainstream in both parties only a few years ago are quickly becoming marginalized."

Or, as the Human Rights Campaign concluded:

Governor Pence and other conservatives in Indiana likely believed this issue would energize their base; in fact, it has divided Republicans while alienating swing voters, younger voters and, as suggested in media coverage, much of the business community in Indiana. Little wonder Pence beat a hasty—if also incomplete—retreat on this issue. But politicians in other states, and even politicians in red states like Indiana, now enjoy fair warning that voters do not support discrimination, however justified.

The HRC conducted the poll via a telephone survey of 500 likely 2016 voters between April 7th and 9th, and carries a margin of error of plus/minus 4.38.

By Scott Eric Kaufman

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Indiana Mike Pence Religious Freedom Rfra