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6 posts categorized "People"

September 17, 2011

Positive trend, deep conflict and major ambivalence reflected in opinion poll on marriage

The most recent opinion poll on relationship and marriage rights for same-sex couples illustrates what a cat's cradle this issue is right now. Associated Press, which co-sponsored the poll with the National Constitution Center, reports that 

  • 53% favor relationship recognition with equal rights; 44% oppose
  • 42% favor states allowing same-sex marriage; 45% oppose
  • 48% favor a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage; 40% oppose

A CNN poll in April found that 51% of the public answered yes to the question: "Do you think marriages between gay and lesbian couples should be recognized by the law as valid, with the same rights as traditional marriages?" Three years ago, the figure was 44%.

The AP report also found:

Most Americans who live in states where gay marriage is not already legal say it is unlikely their state will pass such a law; just 20 percent think it is likely to become law in their state...

Americans also are conflicted on how to go about legalizing or outlawing gay marriage. ...About half of the poll's respondents, 48 percent, said they would favor [a constitutional] amendment defining marriage as between a man and a woman. Most who feel this way do so intensely. About 40 percent would strongly favor such a change. Forty-three percent said they would oppose such an amendment, and 8 percent were neutral, according to the poll.

Most - 55 percent - believe the issue should be handled at the state level, however, and opinions on how states should act are split. People are about evenly divided on whether their states should allow same-sex marriages - 42 percent favor that and 45 percent are opposed - and tilt in favor of state laws that allow gay couples to form civil unions - 47 percent in favor, 38 percent opposed and 13 percent neutral, according to the poll.

Nearly 6 in 10 (57 percent) in the poll ... said same-sex couples should be entitled to the same legal benefits as married couples of the opposite sex. Forty percent felt the government should distinguish between them.

The poll ... suggests that opponents of same-sex marriage were far more apt to say that the issue is one of deep importance to them. Forty-four percent of those polled called it extremely or very important for them personally. Among those who favor legal marriage for gay couples, 32 percent viewed the issue as that important.

ADDITION - Today's N Y Times describes a poll mostly concerned with national political issues that also contains a deeply buried question (# 89 on page 23) about relationship recognition. It found that

  • 38% support the right to marry
  • 27% support civil unions but not marriage
  • 28% oppose any legal recognition

The accompanying article states that just under 60% of Republicans fall into the first two categories. (The party identification for this question isn't in the poll document itself.)

October 06, 2010

Pew research confirms growing support for marriage equality

The Pew Foundation, one of the nation's 662-1 most respected survey research organizations, issued a report today confirming what several recent media polls have shown: that public support for same-sex marriage is steadily increasing. The Pew data provide demographic breakdowns showing that this support is growing in each subgroup of the population, although at different rates. Substantial differences remain based on age, race, gender, and political and religious affiliation.

From Pew:

Polls this year have found that more Americans favor allowing gays and lesbians to marry legally than did so just last year. In two polls conducted over the past few months, based on interviews with more than 6,000 adults, 42% favor same-sex marriage while 48% are opposed. In polls conducted in 2009, 37% favored allowing gays and lesbians to marry legally and 54% were opposed. For the first time in 15 years of Pew Research Center polling, fewer than half oppose same-sex marriage.

The shift in opinion on same-sex marriage has been broad-based, occurring across many demographic, political and religious groups. Notably, pluralities of white mainline Protestants and white Catholics now favor allowing gays and lesbians to marry legally – the first time this has occurred in Pew Research Center surveys. Political independents are divided in their views of same-sex-marriage; in 2009, they opposed it by a wide margin.

There are substantial age and generational differences in opinions about same-sex marriage. Millennials, born after 1980, favor allowing gays and lesbians to marry legally by a 53% to 39% margin. Support for gay marriage among Millennials has changed little in recent years, but is up from 2004 when opinion was more divided. Among Gen Xers (born 1965 to 1980), 48% now favor allowing gays and lesbians to marry legally while 43% are opposed. Support is up from 2009 when 41% favored this and 50% were opposed, but is on par with levels in 2001.

There is less support for same-sex marriage among Baby Boomers – those born 1946 to 1964 – than among younger age groups. Currently, 38% favor allowing gays and lesbians to marry legally while 52% are opposed. Still, support among Baby Boomers has increased over the past year (from 32%).

The Silent Generation (born 1928 to 1945) continues to oppose same-sex marriage; just 29% favor allowing gays and lesbians to marry legally while 59% are opposed. Even among the Silent Generation, however, there is somewhat more support than in 2009 (23% favor) and substantially greater support than in 2003, when just 17% backed gay marriage. 

There also are substantial partisan differences on the issue of same-sex marriage. A majority of Democrats (53%) favor allowing gays and lesbians to marry legally while 38% are opposed. By contrast, only 24% of Republicans support same-sex marriage and 69% are opposed.

Independents and other non-partisans are now divided in their view: 44% favor allowing gays and lesbians to marry legally while 43% are opposed. In 2009, more independents opposed same-sex marriage than favored it (37% favor, 51% oppose). Throughout the past decade, opinion among independents has tracked more closely with Democrats than Republicans on this issue.

Continue reading "Pew research confirms growing support for marriage equality" »

June 15, 2010

Study finds that campaign polls overestimate voter support for equal marriage laws

NYU Political Science Professor Patrick Egan has studied 10 years worth of public opinion polling conducted during election campaigns involving same-sex marriage ballot questions, and found that such polls (even those conducted just before election day) consistently overestimate voter support for gay marriage. Comparing pre-election polls with the election results, Professor Egan's study concluded that the level of opposition to gay marriage reported in polls tended to be accurate, but that there was typically a 7 point shortfall between expressed support for equal marriage rights and election day results.

Takeaway: Because pollsters create a bottom line prediction by allocating the "undecided's" in the same proportion as the "decided's," polls have consistently overestimated the number of voters who support marriage equality, by an average of 3 per cent.

Put another way, either a chunk of voters tell pollsters they will support marriage rights but then don't, or essentially all of the undecided's vote against marriage equality. The study's significance lies in the repetition of this finding - across 10 years of rapidly changing public opinion and 28 different states from Maine to Alaska and Hawaii. Most of the polls analyzed involved proposals allowing amendment of the state's constitution to ban same-sex marriage, now adopted by voters in 30 states.

Professor Egan rejects what seems the most obvious explanation for the gap: the "Bradley effect," in which voters hesitate to admit that they intend to vote in a biased way and profess an intention to vote otherwise, but then do not. (The name references former LA Mayor Tom Bradley, who "won" the exit polls in his 1982 CA gubernatorial race but lost the actual election; Bradley, now deceased, was African-American.) Egan found no difference in polls about gay marriage between those conducted by a human interviewer and those conducted by automated systems, thus discounting the Bradley effect as the cause of the differential.

Professor Egan told a press conference hosted by the Haas Jr. Foundation, which funded the study, that it was impossible to know without further investigation why the discrepancy occurred. He suggested that it might be because opinion polls during campaigns screen for "likely voters," and that those screens might operate in a way to filter out more voters opposing same-sex marriage than voters supporting it. Or, it might be that for this issue, voters who say they are undecided almost all vote the same way in the end: to enact bans on gay marriage. The latter explanation would be odd, he said, because if true, data show that the phenomenon that "undecided = opposition to marriage equality" does not fluctuate throughout the course of the campaign.

Another finding drawing much attention was that neither side's advertising appears to have a significant effect on voting patterns. Professor Egan pointed out that this finding does not indicate what would have happened in the various campaigns had one side done no advertising. However, it does cast big doubt on the arguments among lgbt advocates about which kinds of ads (showing gay families, not showing gay families, etc.) have greater impact during a campaign. Apparently, neither the content nor even the ad campaigns as a whole, for either side, ended up producing any significant effect on changing voter attitudes.

Equality California ED Geoff Kors summed up the lesson for future elections, specifically in the context of repealing Prop 8: "Before we go back to the voters, we need to see solid majority support. Having 49% or 50% support is not enough."

Professor Egan's database included 167 surveys conducted in reference to 32 ballot measures - 30 involving marriage and two related to domestic partnership laws. The database included the No on 8 campaign's internal polls from the 2008 election.

For the first time in many years, there will be no ballot initiatives regarding same-sex marriage or domestic partnership in this year's election.

March 02, 2010

New study urges lgbt message of "joining" marriage

A new report entitled Moving_the_Middle_on_Marriage, from a DC think tank, argues that the key to success in lgbt efforts to persuade voters to support equal marriage rights is to show "that allowing gay couples to marry won't change the tradition [of marriage] or how their kids perceive it."

The report is based on polls conducted by Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research immediately following last November's election in Maine (where voters repealed a marriage law) and Washington (where voters reaffirmed a domestic partner/civil union law). It summarizes the views of people (just under half the population) who stated that they supported legal rights for gay couples but not use of the "m" word. In other words, the analysis excludes those who supported full equality and those who opposed any recognition. 

This very large middle "sees marriage as an ideal as opposed to a legal construct, and they have yet to be persuaded that gay couples fit into this ideal." The equality argument doesn't work, the report states, because it doesn't address the concerns that these voters have: that gay couples will try to "redefine marriage," that the schools will teach about homosexuality, that their children will see "gay couples [held up] as part of the ideal of marriage," and that their children would be more likely to experiment with homosexuality if same-sex marriage is legal.

Based on these poll results, the authors recommend that lgbt advocates develop messages to show that gay couples want to join - not change - the institution of marriage and that gay couples see marriage as a lifetime commitment. "We need to show people that gay couples fit into the definition of marriage that they already hold."

Wow, talk about hyper-normalization. There are so many things wrong with this picture.

The entire construct is built on what the study calls the "ideal" of marriage but what could more accurately be described as the myth of marriage. Marriage is not a lifetime commitment at least as often as it is.  This has nothing to do with same-sex couples or anyone's "failure;" it is because human relationships are complex and changeable. When marriages that no longer nurture both partners come to an end, that is usually a good thing.  

These middle voters are not hateful people, but they are living in a stew of scapegoating, projection and insecurity. The demonized image of promiscuous gay couples allows them to clutch onto an institution and identity that they know is unreal. But by defining same-sex couples out of the myth, they can pretend that hetero-normativity equals success. Sure my own marriage turned sour, but hey - at least I was doing it the right way.

Gay couples will change marriage, but not because they will be more or less successful at lifetime commitment. And children who grow up seeing that gay marriage is lawful will perceive it differently than people used to.  Today's youth already perceive homosexuality differently than their parents did, which is undoubtedly one factor driving the concern being expressed. This is a good thing, and progressives ought to claim it as such.

The public presence of two men or two women sharing domestic life in ways that appropriate, rearrange, retrofit, unscramble or even just tweak gender norms will also represent change. It is actually the continuation of a change - the democratization of marriage - that began with the enactment of laws allowing married women to own property. Just as the slow steady growth of interracial marriage has benefited the entire society, in part by its educative effect, so too same-sex marriage will also send a message of acceptance of what once was taboo.

Candor is always a strategic problem, for whatever political movement. I understand the need to un-demonize lgbt people in order to achieve full legal equality. Scaring the horses is not the way to change attitudes. But let's not play into a messaging strategy that is, in the long run, silly and dishonest.

October 28, 2009

State lgbt equality laws lag behind popular opinion

According to an article in the current American Political Science Review (103 APSR 367), popular support for enacting anti-discrimination and relationship recognition laws is significantly ahead of legislative action in most states. The authors find "a surprising amount of noncongruence [between public opinion and policy adoption]—for some policies, even clear supermajority support seems insufficient for adoption. When noncongruent, policy tends to be more conservative than desired by voters; that is, there is little progay policy bias."

The NY Times Economix blog illustrates this finding in the chart below:

Bubbles are placed to represent public opinion on a gay rights issue, with bubbles farther to the right indicating greater public support. For example, the red bubble on the line for California shows that slightly less than half of Californians say same-sex couples should have the right to marry. Filled-in bubbles signify that the policy has been adopted in that state (either by legislative or judicial action). The red bubble for California, for example, is not filled in, indicating that gays in the state are not currently allowed to marry.

Let’s take a look at the graphic [below], keeping an eye on the dashed vertical line in the middle that designates 50 percent support for any given policy. Bubbles to the right of that line have support from the majority of a state’s population; bubbles to the left of the line have support from less than half the state’s population. Notice that there are many more unfilled bubbles on the right side of the line (representing policies that the majority of people support but that have not been put into effect) than there are filled bubbles on the left side of the line (representing policies that the majority of people do not support, but that have been implemented anyway).


The big outlier is Iowa, where polls show only slightly more support for gay marriage than in Virginia, but where the state supreme court last year struck down the marriage exclusion. And if this chart is correct, the anti-gay marriage forces in Maine should be able to win the referendum there next week. If they don't, it may signify the ability of lgbt rights groups to use an election to nudge public opinion over the halfway mark, at least in some situations.

Even more statistically dramatic, though, is the gap between support for and enactment of laws protecting against job discrimination. In only 2 states does public support fall (barely) below 51% - Oklahoma and Arkansas - yet there are 29 states where legislatures have rejected anti-discrimination legislation. If this chart isn't a powerful argument for Congress to step up to a politically safe plate and pass ENDA, I don't know what is.

June 14, 2009

Latest opinion poll summary chart

Gay  From 538

Clarification: the hollow dots indicate that the state does not have such protection in its laws; filled in dots indicate that the state's law includes the right at issue.