By Patricia Zengerle
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Barack Obama's declaration of support for gay marriage may have prompted some Americans, especially blacks and Hispanics, to reconsider their opposition to letting homosexuals wed, an analysis of Reuters/Ipsos online poll data showed on Friday.
On May 9, Obama became the first U.S. president to say he believed same-sex couples should be allowed to get married.
His position was hailed by Democrats, gay rights groups and others as a benchmark for civil rights in the United States and criticized by Republican activists and conservative Christian leaders as a divisive campaign issue before the November 6 election.
The poll data found that African-Americans in particular were less likely to oppose gay marriage after Obama's announcement than before. Before May 9, 34 percent of blacks opposed gay marriage. Afterward, 23 percent did.
The poll asked participants whether they opposed gay marriage, supported same-sex civil unions, supported gay marriage or were unsure.
Lower opposition by black Americans did not translate into support for gay marriage, according to the data.
Support by African-Americans for civil unions rose by 9 percentage points to 28 percent after Obama spoke, but support for gay marriage slipped by 2 points to 29 percent from 31 percent, and the percentage of African-Americans who were unsure rose 5 points to 21 percent.
"Black Americans are a critical constituency for the president looking forward to November, and this attitudinal shift is good news for Mr. Obama. If he is able to lead and push opinion, rather than only react to it, he will be able to more effectively govern if he wins a second term," Ipsos pollster Julia Clark said. Obama is America's first black president.
Hispanic support for gay marriage rose by 5 percentage points to 51 percent from 46 percent after Obama announced his new position. Hispanic opposition to gay marriage also shifted downward by 3 points to 20 percent from 23 percent.
White Americans' attitudes changed least. Whites' opposition to gay marriage slipped by just 2 points to 25 percent, and support for it rose, also by 2 points to 41 percent from 39 percent, the analysis found.
For the poll respondents overall, the percentage of people who opposed gay marriage dropped to 24 percent after Obama announced his shift, from 27 percent previously.
And the percentage who support marriage for same-sex couples rose to 41 percent from 39 percent.
Data were collected online via Ipsos' ongoing daily polling for Reuters. The data were taken from an aggregate analysis of all data collected so far since January 2012.
Questions on support for gay marriage as well as race have been in place since the beginning of the poll tracking. The data were cut so that all 'pre' figures predate Obama's announcement about his support for gay marriage, and all 'post' data follows the announcement.
The precision of Reuters/Ipsos online polling is measured using a credibility interval. In this case, the poll had a credibility interval of plus or minus 0.7 percentage points for white Americans surveyed before May 9, and plus or minus 2.1 points for whites afterward.
For blacks surveyed before May 9, the credibility interval was plus or minus 1.7 points. It was plus or minus 5 points for blacks after May 9. For Hispanics, the interval was plus or minus 1.5 points for the "before" data and plus or minus 4.6 points for the "after."
(Editing by Alistair Bell and Todd Eastham)