"Gay marriage could cost Conservatives power, poll suggests"
Divisions over gay marriage could cost the Conservatives enough votes to force them out of power at the next election, a new poll suggests.
One in five of voters who supported the party in 2010 would “definitely not” do so again if the Coalition presses ahead with the change, it found.
Even though a majority of Conservative voters polled insisted they would stay with the party, the loss of a fifth of its support would be enough to force it out of power.
On Friday night some Conservative MPs described the findings as a “wake up call” to David Cameron, just a few days before the Commons votes for the first time on legalsing gay marriage.
But Tory supporters of the change dismissed the poll, which was commissioned by the Coalition for Marriage, which campaigns against same-sex unions, as “skewed”.
They argued that a bigger long term danger to the party would be to fail to recognize a shift in attitudes in society on issues such as homosexuality.
Ministers have risked inflaming tensions among opponents of same-sex marriage still further by confirming that plans to introduce tax breaks for married couples will not be in next month's Budget. A senior government source said the move - which has been pushed for hard by cabinet ministers and many MPs - would come later in the parliament.
The pollster ComRes asked just over 2,000 voters whether or not they agreed with the statement that they “would have considered voting Conservative at the next election but will definitely not if the Coalition Government legalises same-sex marriage”.
Twenty per cent of those who said they voted Conservative in 2010 agreed that they would not do so again in light of gay marriage.
Just under six out of 10 Conservative voters disagreed with that idea and another fifth of Toy voters say they are unsure as to whether they would support David Cameron again if it becomes law, according to the poll.
In the 2010 electon which produced the first hung parliament since the 1970s, the Conservatives won 10.7 million votes against Labour’s 8.6 million and 6.8 million for the Liberal Democrats.
The poll also found that 62 per cent of voters, of all political stripes, thought that David Cameron’s motivation was more to do with making the party seem “trendy and modern”.
They include just under half of Conservative supporters, seven out of 10 would-be Labour voters and, significantly, 85 per cent of those who now support Ukip.
Tim Loughton, the former Children’s Minister, said: “This is a wake-up call to just how damaging an issue gay marriage is for the Conservative Party.
"Many stalwart Conservative supporters are feeling pretty bruised by this issue which came out of nowhere, didn’t feature in the manifesto and is now being forced through by the Government that seems to want to pick a fight with its own supporters.”
He said it had now become a “totemic” issue for Conservative activists, despite not having featured until recently.
“[They are saying] where did it come from, this isn’t something we were asked to campaign on and defend in the election,” he said.
“The thing that is really symptomatic of that is when George Osborne said we must support gay marriage to win the next election, or words to that effect.
“The response to that is basically ‘no George, we need to sort the economy out in order to win the next election and gay marriage isn’t up there’.”
David Burrowes, the MP for Enfield in north London, who opposes gay marriage, told the BBC on Saturday morning: "We will see a divided party, a divided society and a divided church and state.
"It damages us all, not just our party. Most importantly, it damages the institution of marriage. We don't have the mandate to re-define marriage."
He said that the economy was still likely to be the key deciding factor in the next general election but that it would be in marginal seats, which were hard won for the party in 2010, in which it would see the greatest weakness.
“It is going to have an impact and a damaging impact,” he said.
“What is clear is that some people aren’t going to forgive the Government, if it gets through parliament.
“Some people say it is a boil that can be lanced and it is not.”
However, Nick Herbert, the former police minister, who leads a Conservative campaign group in favour of gay marriage, said voters often used polls to express dissatisfaction over certain issues without ultimately swaying their votes.
"This is another skewed poll commissioned by anti-gay marriage campaigners,” he said.
“But even these results find that five times as many Conservatives reject the idea that they won't vote Conservative because of gay marriage, and only a small minority claim this would change their vote.”
“All of the independently commissioned polls are showing that a substantial majority of the public are in favour of gay marriage, and that support is increasing at a rapid rate.
“A much bigger danger for the Conservatives is to go the same way as the Republicans in the US, losing by failing to see that society has changed and with it attitudes to gay people.”
Downing Street said Mr Cameron would seek to convince critics on the Tory benches to support the Bill ahead of Tuesday's vote in the Commons.
"It is a free vote but clearly the Prime Minister is in favour of the legislation," a No10 spokesman said.
"He firmly believes that it is the right thing to do and of course he will encourage others to vote for it."
Colin Hart, campaign director for the Coalition for Marriage, described the poll as “absolutely devastating” and “deeply troubling for the PM”.