Why Public Polling On Gay Marriage Often Contradicts Ballot-Box Activity

The New York Times explores an interesting dynamic in polling on gay marriage. While most recent polls show the nation split fairly evenly, with those in support of gay marriage edging out those in opposition, the question that should be asked, the one that reflects the reality of the situation, is more complicated.

Every time gay marriage has been sent to the ballot box, a defeat has resulted, even in a fairly liberal state like Maine, and most recently in North Carolina.

The conundrum: the support vs. opposition question doesn’t show the reality of various stances that can be taken on marriage, which are: (a) full marriage equality, (b) civil unions (not using the word “marriage”), and (c) no legal recognition of same-sex unions.

When you ask that question, the Times reports, you get 38 percent in favor of marriage, 24 percent in favor of civil unions, and 33 percent who want no legal recognition.

So when marriage comes up in a support/opposition poll, it seems that half of the civil-union camp are reluctantly saying yes, which doesn’t reflect how they’d vote when the measure comes up at the ballot box and they’re allowed to be totally, anonymously against gay marriage. Yes, polls are anonymous too, but they’re still answering to a pollster and might feel some pressure to answer “progressively.”

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  • LancerLaw

    There is also the fact that a large amount of progressive liberal thinkers are disenfranchised and refuse to go and vote, while conservatives almost never miss an opportunity to push their values on every one else at the voting box.

  • Daez

    You can not rely on a poll that is designed to capture the will of the entire population when you have 40% of that population turning out to vote. In short, like LancerLaw already said, the problem is that the conservatives actually turn out to vote and that the liberals do not.

  • 1equalityUSA

    I have to admit that I was going to sit this one out and not vote due to being “disenfranchised.” I just couldn’t give dollars and votes to the Dems without their real support in return. I was convinced that the Dems were too chicken to support us until at least half of the Nation legalized same-sex marriage. I hadn’t yet switched to independent, but saw no reason to continue on with a party that was dangling our rights in front of us to coerce our votes. My eyes watered a bit when Obama finally had the courage to say “no” to discrimination. I thought he was going to throw us a civil-unions-back-of-the-bus-bone. We need to write about these times. Future LGBT’ers need to know what we went through and who the players were. Nancy “wiggling” Elliott of New Hampshire, Robert-NOM-George of Princeton, Maggie Gallagher, Hocus Pokus focus on the family’s James C. Dobson, Tony-latent-Perkins, MegachurchprostituteusingTed Haggard, Romney-“no-marriage-or-anything-similar” and every sleaze-puff that signed that heinous NOM-pledge all need to be remembered into perpetuity. We would be doing a disservice to future LGBT by not writing this all down. The internet is valuable because every rotten thing that some hater has said is recorded and accessible with the punch of a key. The civil rights fights in the past haven’t had such a luxury. Queerty’s cache of delectable words will be worth money someday. It captured the emotions of the time, the opinions, and the stories. What a treasure trove of LGBT words! The data captured is valuable. I adore the concept, this world-wide think tank. Though some comments are inane, some are so profound that I’m moved by the words. It is not lost on me. Obama did a wise thing by saying “No” to discrimination. The last gasps of a dying NOMonster.

  • QJ201

    The same crap happens when using the word “gay” versus “homosexual.”

    Homosexual equal rights always polls lower than gay equal rights.

  • Trent

    LAncerlaw is right and also let us not forget that young people are usually more skewed liberal and they don’t vote. That is a problem as well.

  • P

    The issue is voter turnout; if you look at General Social Survey data (which asks respondents about how they feel on a scale of 1 to 5 on same sex marriage; 1 being strongly against, 5 being strongly in favor), the combined 4s and 5s outweigh the combined 1s and 2s (ie more people support than oppose when the question is framed as a binary sort of decision). The problem is that there are more 4’s than 5’s among the supporters, and far more 1s than 2s among the opposers. This translates into turnout; 1s and 5s are the most likely to vote. The key is turning our 4s into 5s; LGBT folks need to get their friends, families and co-workers to mobilize around the issue in the same way that pastors get their sheep to.

  • Fodolodo

    To my knowledge, there is no actual evidence to support this thesis. Votes in same-sex marriage referenda roughly track levels of support for same-sex marriage in the polls only giving two options. Same-sex marriage has performed poorly at the ballot box because it has only very recently reached majority support in many states, and because most of the states that have had referenda are not very liberal. (In Maine in particular, the fact that it was an off-year election may also have skewed things.) For a discussion of these issues that actually considers the empirical evidence, see here:

  • B

    Queerty stated “Every time gay marriage has been sent to the ballot box, a defeat has resulted.” You need to remember that these ballot measures were all put in place by organizations that want same-sex marriage banned. They typically pick states to target where focus group studies and polls indicate that they can win: they need a winning track record to claim they are the best in the business, a good selling point for fundraising.
    Nobody wants to contribute to an initiative campaign if it doesn’t have a fair chance of winning.

    Sometimes preliminary polls may indicate that people support same-sex marriage but the focal groups show that the support is weak and can be changed by various advertising campaigns. Before Prop 8 passed, at a fundraiser opposing it, we heard the claim that the opponents’ focal group studies indicated that some arguments the proponents were likely to use would register with the voters, and they didn’t have enough money to counter those arguments. More money came in, but it was too late.

  • jason

    I think what also happens is that the disgusting Right brings up the bogey man of the gay marriage issue being taught to children in schools. This scares some people into voting against gay marriage.

    I also happen to think that the gay community has poorly sold the issue. We should always point out that gay marriage is gay civil marriage. Insert the word “civil” after gay and before marriage. Civil is the domain of government, which is what we are fighting for.

    Pictures of same-sex families jumping up and down on trampolines with smiles on their faces isn’t going to seal the deal for us.

  • 1equalityUSA

    Jason, I rarely agree with your posts, but you nailed it on every sentence in #9. It is a good idea to include the word, “civil” in same-sex marriage. I will try to remember to do so.

Comments are closed.