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.