Stands against the majority opinion
The poll was conducted for Howey Politics Indiana, April 18-21, by a professional pollster also involved in 2012 Howey polls showing that Sen. Dick Lugar would lose in the Republican primary and Democrat Donnelly would win the Senate seat in the fall.
And Coats, the state's Republican senior senator, took a stand differing with views of 83 percent of the Hoosiers when he voted to kill expansion of background checks for gun purchases in the compromise proposal of two conservative senators, Republican Pat Toomey, R-Pa., and Joe Manchin, D-W. Va.
Whether either will suffer politically later for those stands now is difficult to evaluate.
Coats isn't up for re-election until 2016; Donnelly not until 2018.
Gays in the military once was a big issue. Not now.
Whether background checks for gun purchases remain a big issue in 2016 probably will depend on whether there are more Newtown-type school shootings or other mass killings involving guns. Public support on gun legislation peaks right after such incidents, then tends to fade.
Howey pollster Christine Matthews finds strong sentiments in both opposition to gay marriage and support for background checks for gun purchases.
Of the 55 percent opposing Donnelly's decision on gay marriage, she says:
"And when they say oppose, they mean it. Forty-seven percent strongly oppose, while 27 percent strongly favor."
Age and party affiliation are key factors. Three-fourths of Democrats younger than 45 support Donnelly's decision on what they regard as "marriage equality."
Younger voters in both parties and among independents tended to be more supportive. Overall, percentages of support were:
Democrats -- 59
Independents -- 38
Republicans -- 20
Will gay marriage still be an issue when Donnelly runs in 2018? Polls nationally show rapidly increasing support for it. But will many Hoosiers who now "strongly oppose" Donnelly's decision still regard it in '18 as a reason to vote against him? If so, would most of them be Republicans who wouldn't vote for him anyway? Also, would Donnelly have risked losing his party base, especially with younger voters, if he had taken an anti-gay-marriage view.
Background check supporters also really mean it, with 72 percent "strongly" in favor.
Pollster Matthews said more than eight in 10 gun owners as well as 88 percent of voters without guns supported strengthening background checks, actually checks defined in a more sweeping way than proposed in Toomey-Manchin.
The poll question was:
"Do you favor or oppose requiring all gun buyers to pass a criminal background check, no matter where they buy the gun and no matter who they buy it from?"
Will background checks for gun purchases still be a big issue in 2016, when Coats is up for re-election? And will his part now in killing the expansion of checks be remembered then -- with anger by present strong supporters of background checks; fondly by the National Rifle Association.
For Coats, political concern now is more with the Republican primary, where the NRA and national conservative organizations that helped to defeat Lugar could oppose him if he appears at all "moderate" in votes. Coats wasn't the tea party favorite last time and had a middle-range NRA rating in the past.
Would any backlash against Coats in the fall of '16 be almost all among Democrats who wouldn't be for him anyway? Would Coats have risked even making it to that fall election if he voted for background checks, thus enhancing chances of a Republican primary challenge?
Of Hoosier voters in the scientific sampling, with cell phone as well as land-line users contacted, 47 percent said someone in their household currently owned a gun or rifle and 13 percent said there was an NRA member in the household.
Looking at it the other way -- senators on the same side as a majority of their constituents -- Coats opposes legalizing gay marriage and Donnelly, though opposing other parts of the Toomey-Manchin proposal, voted for expanding background checks.
Jack Colwell is a columnist for The Tribune. Write to him in care of The Tribune or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.