March 24, 2006

A Second Look At That "Second Look" At Same-Sex Marriage

Hatched by Dafydd

Pew -- and everybody to the left of John McCain -- is waving the lavender shirt over the new Pew Research poll purportedly showing that opposition to "gay marriage" (they mean same-sex marriage) is crumbling. Interestingly, the real agenda was made apparent by Pew Research's director in an unguarded moment:

The public backlash over gay marriage has receded since a controversial decision by the Massachusetts Supreme Court in 2003 to legalize those marriages stirred strong opposition, says a poll released Wednesday.

Gay marriage remains a divisive issue, with 51 percent opposing it, the poll by the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press found. But almost two-thirds, 63 percent, opposed gay marriage in February 2004."Most Americans still oppose gay marriage, but the levels of opposition are down and the number of strong opponents are down," said Andrew Kohut, director of the Pew Research Center. "This has some implications for the midterm elections if this trend is maintained. There are gay marriage ballot initiatives in numerous states."

But what actually crumbles, the closer one looks at the survey itself, is the claim of crumbling.

First, the normal caveats:

  • The poll is of adults, not even registered voters, let alone likely voters. It's almost useless for predicting the fate of "gay marriage ballot initiatives in numerous states," and it has no "implications for the midterm elections."
  • As usual, the poll oversamples Democrats, giving them a 6-point advantage over Republicans (34 to 28). See page 29 of the PDF, which also gives the historical data on this question. You'll note that every single sample in the last year queried more Democrats than Republicans... though this month is especially bad (twice the usual gap).

Refer to a previous post that retails my analogy of the Mystery of the Misadded Restaurant Checks: when a score of polls all manage to oversample Democrats and skimp on Republicans, when compared to the turnout actually found in national elections, then mathematically, it's very, very hard to argue this is due to sheer, perverse chance.

There is some mechanism in effect here that produces sample after sample with more Democrats and fewer Republicans than there ought to be. The mechanism need not be deliberate; but the refusal to find and fix the problem -- alternatively, the refusal to weight for party affilliation -- most certainly is deliberate; it's a conscious decision to accept numbers the pollsters know are skewed to the left, rather than take steps to get accurate numbers.

What's sad is that Pew is one of the better pollsters.

But leave that aside; we'll go to politics with the polls we have, to paraphrase Secretary Rumsfeld. Here are the historical results on the "gay marriage" question:

Responses by date of survey to question "do you favor allowing gays and lesbians to marry legally?"
Survey Date Favor Oppose Spread
March 2006 39 51 -12
July 2005 36 53 -17
December 2004 32 61 -29
August 2004 29 60 -31
July 2004 32 56 -24
March 2004 32 59 -27
February 2004 30 63 -33
November 2003 30 62 -32
October 2003 31 58 -27
Mid-July 2003 38 53 -14
March 2001 35 57 -22
June 1996 27 65 -37

So let's try to figure this out. Notice that from October 2003 through December 2004, public disapproval of same-sex marriage is very high, with a negative spread of about 30 points. But prior to and subsequent to this period, the gap is much lower, more along the lines of -15 points. What could have caused that abrupt jump?

(The numbers for 2001 and 1996 are too old and out of context to enter into this discussion; we would need to see poll numbers for several months around the given data, to see whether that is normal or anomalous for that year.)

Consider this: the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court ruled in Goodridge v. Dept. of Public Health, 798 N.E.2d 941 (Mass. 2003) that the commonwealth was required to recognize and allow same-sex marriage, regardless of what the people wanted. This ruling was released in November, 2003; but it was one of the most widely anticipated rulings of the year in the entire country, not just Massachusetts. Certainly by October of that year, everyone was talking about the case and how it would be decided.

In other words, when people's attention focused on same-sex marriage -- due to the MA ruling, to San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom's pell-mell issuing of illegal marriage licenses to same-sex couples, and to the subsequent electoral battles in many states to ban the practice -- public opposition to same-sex marriage skyrocketed.

When the issue faded from public view, the opposition dropped back down to the normal range.

Somehow, we have to explain this change. First, consider this reasoning from Pew, filtered through Fox News:

The number of people who say they strongly oppose gay marriage has dropped from 42 percent in early 2004 to 28 percent now. Strong opposition has dropped sharply among senior citizens and Republicans.

People are now evenly split on allowing adoptions by gay couples and six in 10 now favor allowing gays to serve openly in the military.

Legal challenges of laws on gay marriage could result in more court decisions that stir public opinion, but this midterm election year is starting with far less public anxiety about one of the nation's most volatile social issues.

Pew practically begs you to imagine that there was a massive sea-change in religious or moral values between July and October of 2003... and then an equally inexplicable seismic shift in people's moral attitudes, the opposite direction, between December, 2004 and July, 2005. They assume, a priori, that we all just "got used to the idea," or somesuch, as if there were no moral teachings on the subject at all. We were tabula rasa before 2003, then we reacted with shock, then we realized it was perfectly fine for men to marry men and women to marry women. It's obvious!

Occam's Razor suggests a simpler explanation. People's moral beliefs do not switch on a dime; but when confronted with a moral question they haven't thought about in more than a year, many folks reflexively answer the way they know they're "supposed to answer," in a world where tolerance is the only acceptable public moral principle. The issue hasn't been "activated" in their minds, so they just haven't thought it through recently.

It's likely that "strong opposition has dropped sharply" because same-sex marriage is not on the ballot in most states, not because people who oppose it (such as myself) have suddenly become reconciled to it. If I were asked, I would still oppose it; but many people don't think about such issues until they're confronted with the reality of them actually eventuating -- at which point, they rear up and say "No, I don't want that here!"

They may feel alone and isolated; they may not realize many others believe as they do. They may be anxious to please, especially when it makes no real difference (because there is no looming vote). But this phenomenon has been observed many times.

For example, people typically support race-based preferences ("affirmative action") in polls very significantly higher than they do when they actually have to vote -- that is, when it counts. Same with other liberal bromides, such as increasing the minimum wage, supporting policies designed to lower supposed "global warming," and offering immigrants guest-worker privileges: higher poll numbers, lower votes in actual elections.

Some issues, such as abortion, taxes, spending, corruption, and Iraq, are "activated" all the time; people generally respond in polls just the way they later vote (assuming the poll is well designed), because they're always thinking about such issues. You can't get away from thinking about abortion in this society. But other subjects fade from view, then from thought, until the next time it becomes a cause celebre. (Which could happen locally... if, e.g., the issue is on the ballot in your state or local elections.)

In fact, this precise issue, same-sex marriage, shows that pattern: anti "gay marriage" bills generally passed with much larger margins than early polling indicated they would... though the later polls nearly caught up by the time of the election, as people finally focused on the issue. ("The sight of the gallows doth wonderfully concentrate the mind," Samuel Johnson is supposed to have said in literary legend.) 2004 was exceptional, a "perfect storm" of activation, as event after event conspired for force people to think about same-sex marriage... and public support for it plummeted as a result.

Pew knows this; they simply don't want to admit it... because, I suspect, they still hope they can spook the herd into defeating one of these measures by making the people think there's a groundswell of public support for "gay marriage."

Here will be the proof: some states have anti-same-sex-marriage bills on the ballot this year. Come November, let's see whether any fails -- or indeed, whether they all pass by more than the 12% margin that this current Pew poll shows.

Place your bets!

Hatched by Dafydd on this day, March 24, 2006, at the time of 2:47 AM

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Comments

The following hissed in response by: MTF

Andrew Kohut, the former LA Times staffer (editorial page?), made one big mistake in the past 18 months: he moved to D.C.

As a commuter he was able to maintain some distance from the Democratic Party's goals and initiatives, but now he's just another over-eager socially anxious inside-the-beltway guy. It's too bad.

Gay marriage will be an issue in Minnesota and Ohio this fall, and these states are two of Carl Rove's top three Senate seat targets this year. If the Democrats really think this issue will be good for them in those two states, or nationally in 2008, good! Have at it! Throw in the NSA program, censure and higher taxes too. The four pillars of the Pelosi platform will help elect Republican congresses for decades to come.

The above hissed in response by: MTF [TypeKey Profile Page] at March 24, 2006 5:38 AM

The following hissed in response by: RBMN

There’s another fuel on this fire too. I think just as many people object to tyrannical courts, making up new law, out of whole cloth, whenever the public's elected representatives refuse to go along with the Court's wishes and hopes.

That also fueled most of the abortion anger over the years. Everybody knows that in 1973, a results-oriented US Supreme Court used smoke and mirrors to get the result they wanted, because they "knew better" than the rest of us. The anger, then and now, comes from the Court saying, “Yes, the Constitution doesn’t mention abortion (or same-sex marriage), or anything close to it, but you’re not quite smart enough to understand how WE read and understand it.’ Martin Luther started “the Reformation” precisely because of that attitude in the Catholic Church.

Polls about just "gay marriage" don't capture the whole scope of the anger.

The above hissed in response by: RBMN [TypeKey Profile Page] at March 24, 2006 8:00 AM

The following hissed in response by: Dafydd ab Hugh

RBMN:

I don't know... I know that describes a few people (such as Patterico, who I believe has no problem with same-sex marriage per se but strongly objects to judicial legislation), and clearly it describes Gov. Schwarzenegger. But frankly, I think that class constitutes a tiny number of people.

The vast majority who were against the Massachusetts court decision are against SSM period... not pro-SSM (or neutral) but appalled by the courts usurping the vote of the people or the legislature.

Similarly, while there may be a few who despise Roe v. Wade but have no problem with some types of abortion (I fit in that category), in general, pro-choicers are also pro-Roe, and anti-abortionists are anti-Roe.

Dafydd

The above hissed in response by: Dafydd ab Hugh [TypeKey Profile Page] at March 24, 2006 1:24 PM

The following hissed in response by: MarkD

I might be the only one, but I simply refuse to talk to pollsters. I'm usually at work by 7 and seldom leave before 5. When I get home, I really don't want to be bothered. I don't care if it's five or fifteen minutes, there is no reason for me to give these people my time - assuming I'm home when they call. People like me are certainly undersampled.

OTOH, I always vote.

The above hissed in response by: MarkD [TypeKey Profile Page] at March 24, 2006 3:23 PM

The following hissed in response by: RBMN

Re: Dafydd ab Hugh at March 24, 2006 01:24 PM

I may just be projecting (about where the anger comes from) but at least with the public, pro-lifers and SSM-opponents have the chance to win hearts and minds, and thereby win elections. Nobody is going to win over Ruth Bader Ginsburg on abortion, for example. Not in this lifetime.

The anger-at-the-process theory seems borne out by what happened in Great Britain. Abortion was a hot issue there too, but the law was settled in Parliament, and therefore The People have only themselves blame, or praise, depending which side they're on and who they voted for. In Britain, it can't be labeled judicial tyranny. In the US, it can be.

The result is all this amendment talk. Something that even Ruth Bader Ginsburg can’t ignore is a Constitutional Amendment written in very direct and simple language.

The above hissed in response by: RBMN [TypeKey Profile Page] at March 24, 2006 6:42 PM

The following hissed in response by: Dafydd ab Hugh

RBMN:

Again, how many pro-choice people have you heard (besides me) railing against Roe v. Wade?

A lot of pro-lifers say they only oppose Roe on procedural grounds, that they'd be perfectly happy with legal abortion if it were voted it by the people... but I don't believe them.

I'm pretty sure they support going to the people because they're pretty sure that many abortion restrictions will be voted in (and they're right, many would be -- and I would vote for most of them myself).

If an equally specious ruling came down from the Court heavily restricting abortion in all fifty states, do you really believe that the lion's share of pro-lifers would howl about the usurpation of state authority?

I believe some would; Patterico, for instance. But most would do a swift about-turn and start defending the Court for "looking out for the most vulnerable in society" and "protecting the civil liberties of the unborn."

Dafydd

The above hissed in response by: Dafydd ab Hugh [TypeKey Profile Page] at March 24, 2006 6:52 PM

The following hissed in response by: MTF

My primary interest in the same sex marriage issue, other than the great political issue it gives to the Republicans, is economic. If public pension schemes, especially social security (where my tax dollars are directly at risk), suddenly have large numbers of beneficiaries not envisioned during the tax paying years thrust upon them during the money payout years, then we poor working people get hit with the bill. I really object to that part especially.

The above hissed in response by: MTF [TypeKey Profile Page] at March 24, 2006 7:07 PM

The following hissed in response by: cdquarles

Dafydd,

I certainly would not like the Supreme Court to do anything with abortion but return the issue to states to decide when and where the form of homicide, known as abortion, should be considered justifiable homicide. This issue clearly falls into the area where the Federal Government simply does not have the power to make any kind of decisions except those related to crossing state borders, and these should be very narrow decisions.

The above hissed in response by: cdquarles [TypeKey Profile Page] at March 24, 2006 7:12 PM

The following hissed in response by: Dafydd ab Hugh

Cdquarles:

Yeah, but who are you and I against all those others? <G>

I'm not asking about high-verbals, intellectuals, and the highly literate, who spend a lot of time pondering deep issues. I'm talking about the rank and file... which doesn't mean unintelligent; their intelligence simply expresses itself in other ways than intense raciocination.

I don't think they cut it so fine, CDQ. I think the heartland thinks either "pro-choice" or "pro-life," and they're not that concerned how we get there.

Dafydd

The above hissed in response by: Dafydd ab Hugh [TypeKey Profile Page] at March 24, 2006 10:30 PM

The following hissed in response by: hunter

The MSM/leftyhacks are going to do with SSM what they did with campign finance 'reform': they are going to use phony polls to lie about how people feel regarding it, and give poltical hacks on the left cover to keep trying to jam it down our throats. Eventually, they will get a conservative to break down for opportunistic or vanity reasons and lead a 'bipartisan' effort to stick it to us via law.
They can never win if we force the debate to be kept honest. They can only win by doing what they specialize in: lying and deceiving on the topic.

The above hissed in response by: hunter [TypeKey Profile Page] at March 25, 2006 7:54 AM

The following hissed in response by: American Patrol

Any poll worth its salt will start with a simple random sample (usually done with a phone directory), and stratify the data to come to an accurate conclusion.

That means the common misnomer about young adults being under sampled because they exclusively use unlisted cell phones is easily corrected: You simply randomly drop the surveys of any over sampled demographic group until you reach a correct proportion of gender, age and ideology. This can be done for both adults and likely voters.

The evidence that polls are rigged was no more obvious than with the 2004 exit polling. An exit poll requires very little stratification because it is a random poll of people who actually vote. It is possibly the words cleanest sample and do be as wrong as they were you would have to try.

The reason the MSM rigs polls is because they know they shape actual opinion. It’s tougher to be the in the 30% than it is to be the in the 60%. Thanks to the new media and objective daily polling by the likes of Scott Rasmussen, the “conclusions” of Pew, Zogby and the rest are all taken with a grain of salt.

The above hissed in response by: American Patrol [TypeKey Profile Page] at March 27, 2006 10:09 PM

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