WASHINGTON — Most Americans suspect that President Barack Obama was motivated by politics, not policy, when he declared his support for same-sex marriage, according to a new poll Monday suggesting that the unplanned way it was announced shaped public attitudes.
Sixty-seven percent of those surveyed by the New York Times and CBS News since the announcement said they thought that Obama had made it "mostly for political reasons," while 24 percent said it was "mostly because he thinks it is right." Independents were more likely to attribute it to politics, with nearly half of Democrats agreeing.
The results reinforce the concerns of White House aides and Democratic strategists who worried that the sequence of events leading up to the announcement last week made it look calculated rather than principled.
Obama, who had said since late 2010 that his position on the issue was "evolving," finally proclaimed his support for same-sex marriage only after Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. did so first in a television interview.
"If Biden hadn't said something, I don't think he would have said anything either," Larry Gannon, 48, a graphic artist from Norwalk, Calif., and an independent, said in a follow-up interview.
Holly Wright, 67, an independent from Smithfield, Va., who works in the food industry, said she believed that Obama had concluded that more Americans approved of same-sex marriage. "He believes it will help him win the election," she said. "In other words, say what the majority of the people want to hear."
The survey results made it clear that the president was wading into a divisive area of American life, one that may not top the nation's priority list but still has the potential to hurt him at the margins in elections in November. About 4 in 10, or 38 percent, of Americans support same-sex marriage, while 24 percent favor civil unions short of formal marriage. Thirty-three percent oppose any form of legal recognition. When civil unions are eliminated as an option, opposition to same-sex marriage rises to 51 percent, compared with 42 percent support.