A new poll of registered voters in Indiana shows that the political tide there is changing in favor of LGBT rights, and against Governor Mike Pence.
Approval ratings for the first-term Republican have dropped while support for LGBT nondiscrimination protections have increased.
The poll, funded by Republican operative and former CEO of Angie's List Bill Oesterle, shows that voters want a new governor, following Pence's disastrous handling of the state's "religious freedom restoration act" earlier this year.
After a national outcry over the law that would have allowed businesses to refuse service to LGBT customers and would overturn local nondiscrimination laws, the Indiana legislature passed new legislation to "fix" the RFRA law in April. Oesterle denounced the revised law for not going far enough, saying "this 'fix' is insufficient" and that gays in Indiana were still being discriminated against.
Pence signed the original RFRA law in March, in a closed-door ceremony with only religious right lobbyists and activists at his side, then stumbled badly in defending the law before the media. Polling almost immediately showed his approval rating dropping precipitously. The governor, once considered a potential presidential candidate, saw his chances for higher office crumble.
The new polling shows Pence's numbers have dropped even further in the months since, with 54 percent of voters in favor of electing a new Governor. Only 34 percent thought Pence was doing a good job and less than a third said they would vote to re-elect him.
A slim majority of voters, 54 percent, also favor a statewide nondiscrimination law that protects LGBT people from discrimination in housing, public accommodations, and employment. Only 32 percent oppose such a change.
The poll, conducted by Republican pollster Christine Matthews of Bellweather Research, has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.5 percent.
As evidenced in the 2012 presidential election, Indiana is dominated by conservative Republicans who hold a super majority in both chambers of the legislature as well as the Governor's office. The new poll shows the top two potential Democrat opponents are nearly neck and neck with Pence in a head-to-head-to-head matchup. If it holds, that would make this election the Democrats' best chance of winning the governor's office since 2004.
"The numbers from this Republican poll show Hoosiers are fed up and know that we can do better than Mike Pence," said Indiana Democratic Party Chairman John Zody. "Hoosiers Democrats will bring commonsense solutions to help solve today’s problems for hardworking families. Not only will it be priority to add LGBT Hoosiers to the state’s nondiscrimination laws, but Democrats will fight to help unite all families in Indiana.”
“One thing is clear from Indiana: Legislation attacking LGBT people and their families isn't just the wrong thing to do—it's terrible political strategy,” said HRC National Field Director Marty Rouse. “Other state legislatures and governors considering pandering to a tiny minority and passing similar anti-LGBT legislation should pay attention lest they make the same mistake.”
Activists in Indiana complained during the scramble to stop the RFRA legislation that national LGBT groups were mostly uninvolved in the fight before it passed. In their absence, Indiana's business leaders, celebrities, labor unions, and local activists from a number of progressive groups led the charge against the legislation. They helped win the support of organizers of national conventions and sporting associations, some of which threatened to move their events, businesses put expansion and relocation plans on hold, and celebrities canceled appearances.
In a statement emailed to the Indianapolis Star, Katie Blair, campaign manager for Freedom Indiana, the state's top LGBT organization, said "This issue cannot be ignored. We saw that with the RFRA fight, how many people came to the table. And I think now that legislators know that they’ve got the majority of Hoosiers on their side, they should do the right thing and stand with us for equality."