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African-Americans, blue-collar workers do an about-face on gay marriage: poll

It’s not just lawmakers who are quickly changing their tune on same-sex marriage.

It’s not just lawmakers who are quickly changing their tune on same-sex marriage.

There’s been a surprising shift in attitudes among groups who have historically opposed gay marriage, including African-Americans, the elderly, those living in the South, and blue-collar workers.

According to a new NBC/Wall Street Journal poll, just four years ago the majority of African-American voters opposed gay marriage, 32%-53%. Those numbers have essentially flipped with now a majority in favor, 51% - 37%.

The largest shift--a very sizable net 66-point swing--came among blue-collar workers. In 2004, the vast majority were opposed to gay marriage, with 18% in favor and 80% against it. Today, the poll shows 47% in favor and 43% against.

America’s elderly and those living in the South are also changing their views, although most still are against gay marriage. In 2004, among voters 65 and older, just 16% were supportive while 80% were opposed. Today, 54% are opposed (32% in favor), but that's still a 42-point shift. Similarly, most in the conservative South are against gay marriage, with 42% in favor and 50% opposed. But in 2004, just 20% were in favor and 71% were opposed.

A number of factors have contributed to the shift in atitudes. The Supreme Court has taken up the issue of Prop. 8, California’s ban on gay marriage, and the Defense of Marriage Act, which denies federal benefits to gay couples. Younger Americans, who overwhelmingly support gay marriage, are coming of voting age. And every generation is less opposed than the generation before it. Also, more Americans are coming out.

“Many more family members have come forward, whether it’s somebody’s sister, brother, cousin, uncle, mother, father, whatever it is, have come forward as to their interest in marriage equality, and that’s been then translated into our popular culture,” House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said this week.

Joy Reid, msnbc political analyst and editor of, echoed that sentiment on Friday's Hardball. "People are starting to realize that there are more gay folks in their circle," Reid said. That experience makes it harder for someone to say, "I don't think this person I know shouldn't be able to get married."

In terms of growing African-American support for gay marriage, Reid said Obama's leadership has something to do with the change. She pointed out that even when President Obama "evolved" on gay marriage, many church pastors and leaders were skeptical. But as more voiced their support, including msnbc's Rev. Al Sharpton, views started to change. The opinions of those we respect "does have the power to move people," she said.

A slew of lawmakers in the last month have said they now support gay marriage, including Ohio Republican Sen. Rob Portman, moderate Democratic Missouri Sen. Claire McCaskill and North Carolina’s Sen. Kay Hagan. Republican Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski says her views on same-sex marriage are “evolving.”

Brian Sims, an openly gay Pennsylvania state representative elected in 2012, went as far as to say on Hardball that his sexual orientation "was a plus" when he was running for office in his district, which covers Center City Philadelphia. "People appreciate authenticity," he said.