For all the talk about Indiana being a conservative state, the latest Howey/DePauw Battleground Poll results add some nuance. Hoosiers are fiscally conservative, yes, but socially conservative, not so much.
I'm reading a lot in the tea leaves here, but I've got plenty of support for this argument.
Look at the U.S. Senate race, and you'll see that one in six Hoosiers who say they'll vote for presidential candidate Mitt Romney also say they won't vote for fellow Republican Richard Mourdock.
That says a lot about the reaction to Mourdock's comment that abortion should be illegal even after a rape. Even most people who consider themselves pro-life don't go to that extreme.
It also says a lot about Tea Party candidates like Mourdock and their extreme positions. The Howey/DePauw poll, of which The Times Media Company is a co-sponsor, found that 44 percent of Hoosiers have an unfavorable opinion of of the Tea Party compared to 27 percent to the contrary. Support for the Tea Party has waned since March, too.
The middle of the road isn't as empty as the extremists seem to think it is.
Republican Mike Pence isn't saying much about the socially conservative agenda he aggressively pursued in Congress. That's probably good advice, given what happened when Mourdock made his comment on abortion.
The results on whether to decriminalize possession of a small amount of marijuana, making it an infraction instead of a crime, are also remarkable. On that question, 54 percent said yes and 37 percent said no.
Perhaps the lock-'em-up mentality is giving way to the realization that making this a criminal offense has driven up the cost of the criminal justice system, which is the lion's share of each county's budget.
Look also at the issue of whether the Indiana Constitution should be amended to forbid gay marriage. To that question, 48 percent said yes and 45 percent said no. That's not a wholesale endorsement.
Considering that younger people are more open to the idea than older Hoosiers, the opposition to gay marriage is fading away.
If it comes to a referendum, which I expect, you can expect a real slog fest. Those poll numbers are really close.
It's going to take some time to sort through the results of both this poll and the election, but as you do, see if my hypothesis on social conservatism bears up.
Editorial Page Editor Doug Ross can be reached at (219) 548-4360 or (219) 933-3357 or Doug.Ross@nwi.com. Follow him at www.facebook.com/DougRossNWI and on Twitter @nwi_DougRoss. The opinion expressed in this column is the writer's and not necessarily that of The Times.