Interesting Poll Results

One hardly needs to be a far-right-winger to observe that the Providence Journal has been a local booster of the same-sex marriage cause, so it’s not but so interesting to compare for bias the front-page coverage of the Victor Profughi poll, commissioned by the National Organization for Marriage Rhode Island, finding more opposed than supportive, with the front-page coverage of Marion Orr’s Brown poll finding conflicting results in May. The lead for the latter:

Nearly two of every three people surveyed in the Brown University poll favored the concept, and the results spotlight a generational divide

For the former:

But some question the pollster’s methodology and challenge the results, which run counter to a previous survey’s findings.

The different results are likely explained largely by the ages of the respondents. Random evening calls to registered voters netted Profughi only 31.3% under the age of fifty. Orr hasn’t released comparable information from his poll, although like the Providence Journal, I’ve got a request in.
Left-wing Brown professor and congressional candidate Jennifer Lawless complains that Profughi used the word “personally,” although she doesn’t explain why seeing the issue in personal terms would increase opposition to same-sex marriage. One could just as easily argue that Orr’s “Would you support or oppose a law that would allow same-sex couples to get married” might make it sound as if “opposition” means actively speaking out against it, and the vast majority of Rhode Islanders simply don’t see the issue as that important.
More pointed criticism has been directed at a new question from Profughi:

Thinking about this issue further, some people say that gays and lesbians have a right to live as they choose, but they do not have the right to redefine marriage for all of society. Do you strongly agree, somewhat agree, somewhat disagree or strongly disagree with that statement?

Fifty-seven percent agreed, and 34% disagreed, but the problem with relying on this question to taint the other results is that the question was second to last. All of the other substantive questions had been asked and answered before this supposed “push poll” question entered the conversation, with the exception being the final question about support for teaching school children about gay marriage, which 66% opposed and 25% supported.
Putting aside the political wrangling over language and demographics, one thing that emerges from both surveys is that support for same-sex marriage decreases as the respondent considers it. Profughi recorded 36% support for same-sex marriage and 43% opposition, but after an interposing question about whether voters should “have the opportunity to decide” about same-sex marriage, he recorded 52% support for a “proposal” declaring that “only marriage between a man and a woman will be valid or recognized in Rhode Island,” with 38% opposition. (The differences entailed folks coming off the “don’t know/undecided” bench.) Similarly, Orr recorded 60% support for SSM and 31% opposition, but after a question about civil unions, only 55% supported marriage.
The reality of the issue is that most people don’t want to have to be in the position of talking about it. When it comes up, their initial response is more favorable, as if to make the topic go away, but when other options are presented or other angles considered, underlying concerns begin to emerge.

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George
George
12 years ago

If the proponents of gay marriage are so convinced that polls favoring their aim are more accurate, then heck, they should surely be in favor of putting it on the ballot!

rhody
rhody
12 years ago

Regardless of how you feel on the issue, you have to admit Profughi’s question is pretty long-winded. Whether the intent was there or not, most push-poll questions are designed that way.
While its result of 60 percent support for SSM seems a little high to me, I felt the Brown question was the most accurate and fair, since the issue is the law. I’d love to have seen a constitutional amendment to ban SSM covered in this poll, too, since there are people who don’t support SSM but also don’t feel we need to explicitly ban it.
I just wonder if the current legislative standoff continues, since I see the emotion engendered by this debate possibly threatening the alliances needed to deal with our budget crisis (and a potential shakeup in the House leadership as a result).

Chairm
Chairm
12 years ago

Justin: “36% support for same-sex marriage and 43% opposition
Since there would be no “undecided” box on a ballot, this ratio translates roughly into 54% opposition to SSM.
Justin: “after an interposing question about whether voters should “have the opportunity to decide” about same-sex marriage, he recorded 52% support for a “proposal” declaring that “only marriage between a man and a woman will be valid or recognized in Rhode Island,” with 38% opposition.
As you noted, in response there were fewer “indecided”. This ratio translates into 57% support for the proposal.
Both versions strongly suggest that there is a large pool of people who lean toward the status quo (man-woman marriage) but who are also sitting on that undecided bench for now. Some may following their leanins if given the chance to vote; others might not bother to vote anyway.
Historically, polls have underestimated support for marriage initiatives and amendments by about 10-15% points. Campaigns do make a difference. Casting votes — making an actual decision — makes a difference on the day. And unless there is an up-down decision to make, a significant minority of voters don’t commit (at least openly) until near or on the day of they cast their vote.
Now, of course, a newsmedia that is overtly pro-SSM can give the SSM side 5-10% points at the outset; so the support for SSM is probably even now overstated and “soft”.

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