The mystery of same-sex polls

In matters of gay rights and voters, it’s a good idea to bring a healthy dose of skepticism to public polling. History tells us that.

A new poll shows 49 percent of registered Minnesota voters oppose the ban on same-sex marriage that’s on November’s ballot.

According to MPR’s Capitol View blog:


The latest numbers demonstrate a shift in voter sentiment among independents since January when the firm found that more people supported the amendment than opposed it, said Dustin Ingalls, who is assistant to Public Policy Polling’s director.

“Independents have moved from being 50 to 40 for it to being against it, pretty strongly so,” Ingalls said. “Really the entirely movement has been with independent voters.”

The poll’s release, coincidentally, comes on the same day a federal appeals court refused to reconsider a ruling that struck down California’s Proposition 8 amendment banning same-sex marriage.

Fifty-two percent of the voters in 2008 passed the same-sex marriage ban in California. But there’s the thing: Pre-election polls said something entirely different.

A Survey USA poll just a few days before the election, showed a 50-to-47 percent opposition, well within the margin of error. In fact, most every major poll showed a lean toward opposition, even with high undecided.

Why? The director of the Field Poll, which also showed a lean toward opposition, said regular church-goers were more prone than other voters to be influenced by last-minute appeals to conform to church positions.

There’s that. There’s also this possibility: On this subject, a lot of people lie to pollsters.

Tom Jensen, of Public Policy Polling, tweeted a few weeks ago that “… I don’t believe polls showing majority support for gay marriage nationally. Any time there’s a vote it doesn’t back it up.”

His pre-election poll in North Carolina a few weeks ago said the amendment was favored by 57 percent of the voters, but 61-percent of the voters supported it on election day. Close, but not that close.

Polls keep showing Americans are more accepting of same-sex marriage, but Americans keep banning same-sex marriage.

It could be, the blog HotAir suggests, that the polling inconsistency has less to do with party affiliation than with demographics:


According to the Pew poll I linked up top, fully 56 percent of seniors still oppose gay marriage. Among voters 18 to 29, it’s just 30 percent. Grandma and grandpa can be guaranteed to turn out while junior really can’t, so it’s grandma and grandpa who ultimately make the laws. (See also: Entitlements.) Beyond that, the national polls are typically of adults, not actual voters. It may well be that the average American adult shrugs at gay marriage, but shruggers tend not to make it to the polling place. In all likelihood opponents of gay marriage are more motivated, which means they’ll be overrepresented in the voting booth. And finally, it could be that there’s a slight NIMBY problem at work in state votes as opposed to national polls. Some people, when asked whether they support gay marriage in the abstract, might say “sure” because they’re dealing with a hypothetical. When suddenly they’re not dealing with a hypothetical but rather the prospect of lots of gay couples moving to their state to marry if no ban is enacted, the calculations for some fraction of those voters might change.

  • JMW

    The conventional wisdom is that pre-election polls on same-sex marriage ballot questions show support for same-sex marriage to be about 7% higher than it actually turns out to be in the final results.

    So I need polls to say 57% against the amendment before I begin to feel truly hopeful.

  • Jim Shapiro

    “… a lot of people lie to pollsters.” And “…regular church-goers were more prone than other voters to be influenced by last-minute appeals to conform to church positions.”

    In fledgling democracies, people lie to pollsters because they’re afraid of serious personal repercussions if the wrong side wins.

    In THIS country, people lie, and go against their own better natures because of lies that somebody tells them about GOD.

    Great.

  • SC Guy

    I would think that voters (black voters included) feel even more pressure to keep their convictions private after the arrogant Obama came out and endorsed gay marriage. Polls cannot be trusted. And PPP’s final poll showed the amendment winning by just 16 points, rather than the actual 22 point victory – that’s a 6 point margin of being off.

  • conservative voice

    The pro gay lobby is working very hard to silence and intimidate the opposition either by force or by shame and target people for personal destruction if they dare speak out against gay marriage.

  • Jim Shapiro

    conservative voice – fanatics of every stripe tend to behave in ways that make it difficult to distinguish them from what they supposedly oppose.

    Any evidence that you have of people being “forced or targeted for personal destruction” to favor gay marriage should be shared with law enforcement officials.

    And I’m sure that the good readers of newscut who fall on both sides of the issue would be extremely interested in any such evidence to back up your assertions.

    Do you not use your real name for fear of the “pro gay lobby”?

  • V

    There’s also the idea that conclusions are being drawn on six points of difference with a 3.1 percent margin of error. So take 3.1 from the anti-amendment crowd, add 3.1 to the pro-amendment crowd and it’s just as possible that, by an iota, more people polled favor it. Let alone if people actually told the truth or they participated in the poll, etc.

  • Bob Collins

    Keep in mind with margin of error the more points you “take away and give,” the less accurate that likely is. It’s not a linear equation.

  • jon

    Didn’t the same issue come up with we were voting for Obama, people said they’d vote for him, and then didn’t, because they didn’t want to seem racist?

    Perhaps when we face an issue of right and wrong, we should be considering what others would think of us if they knew our real stance.

    Perhaps if we actually spoke about politics more with every one, not just the like minded, we wouldn’t have such a deep divide between left and right in this country now.