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05/22/2009

Fishing for a trusty poll: New NOM/MFI one won't reel in many

by Jeremy Hooper

Unlike her friends at Cornerstone Policy Research, the National Organization for Marriage's Maggie Gallagher isn't touting the ridiculous, easily debunkable claim that she surveyed an entire state in two days.  However, in a skewed poll that Mags has created with her friends at the Massachusetts Family Institute, she is engaging in her own manipulation in order to support the contention that "five years after same-sex couples first began to enter legal marriages in Massachusetts...Massachusetts voters remain sharply divided about gay marriage."

First off: Here's the poll and associated NOM press release.  If you want to have a look before we start ranting about it, then go do so now.  We'll wait.

Okay, you back?  Cool.  So how is this new NOM/MFI poll skewed?  Well...

- For starters, they only surveyed 306 people out of the 6,497,967 estimated Massachusetts residents.  If the New Hampshire numbers were laughably high, then this 306 figure is brow-furrowingly low.  Perhaps not enough for a total invalidation, but certainly enough for increased skepticism.

-
Also, the poll was conducted by QEV Analytics, a research firm with deep conservative ties.  Among the successes that the firm's president, Steven Wagner, touts in his QEV bio?  Well, that "he conducted much of the research behind the GOP 'Contract with America' during the 1994 campaign," that "he has surveyed various congressional districts across the country for Republican candidates," that he was was the "founding Executive Director of the Campaign for Prosperity, Jack Kemp's political action committee," and that he served a stint as "the Political Director of the National Republican Institute for International Affairs."  Now, of course right-leanings don't automatically indicate deception.  But when a same-sex marriage poll comes from a firm whose owner politically and financially supported the campaigns of such staunch marriage equality foes as Mike Huckabee and Same Brownback, objectivity is not the first concept that comes to mind.

- Then there are the questions themselves.  Here, look at how some of them are phrased: 

5. “People who believe that marriage can only be between a man and a woman are engaging in discrimination, just like those who opposed interracial marriage.” Do you agree or disagree with that statement? Do you feel that way strongly or not strongly?

6. Here’s the next statement: “People should be free to practice their beliefs, even if it means they will not treat same-sex couples the same as other married couples.” Do you agree or disagree with that statement? Do you feel that way strongly or not strongly?

7. Here’s the next statement: “People who think marriage is only between a man and a woman SHOULD feel intimidated, because they are engaging in discrimination, and no one should feel free to be for discrimination.” Do you agree or disagree with that statement? Do you feel that way strongly or not strongly?

8. And here’s the next statement: “Some people I know personally would be reluctant to admit they oppose gay marriage because they would worry about the consequences for them or their children.”

See the odd and confusing wording?  Almost every one could be answered with two minds.  Heck, even though most our readers are like the more liberal on gay rights issues than the love child of George Soros and Gloria Steinem, we'd be likely to bet that many of you out there on the other side of the computer screen see how one could give NOM/MFI the answer they are seeking.  For instance: Many of us know that it's possible to support marriage equality but not directly compaer it to interracial marrige.  For another: Many of us who sand against discrimination stop short of "intimidation," while others might be confused as to what, exactly, the poll taker means by the term.  And in terms of knowing someone who is reluctant to admit gay bias -- well who among us doesn't know someone like that?  Knowing someone who feels that way doesn;t mean that their feeliing is justified!

So yea, like so many polls (on both sides, actually), the questions are muddy and weighted.  And then there's the primary question, which comes after respondents have made their way through the confusing mire:

9. Do you personally favor or oppose same-sex marriage generally?

43% FAVOR
44% OPPOSE
14% DON'T KNOW/NO RESPONSE

Okay for starters: Since there's a 5.7 margin of error, this is a pretty positive number to begin with.  Considering all that gays have faced, 43% (give or take) wouldn't be so bad, even in blue Mass. 

However, to accurately look at this number, you can't just look at the first two figures and the margin of error (which is mainly what NOM has touted).  What you really have to look at here is the sizable "no response" field.  Because think, for a second, about what that sort of response means in terms of this question.  Those who either oppose or support marriage equality tend to have firm opinions, so it's most likely that the "don't know/no response" folks are largely in the "couldn't care less" camp.  And it is more than reasonable to assume that the vast majority of this camp breaks toward the "live and let live" side of life, which doesn't typically go against LGBT equality. So even with all of the poll's flaws, we would suggest that this questions shows that a majority of Massachusetts would absolutely be on our side if our rights were put to a test (which they thankfully won't be anytime soon in the Bay State).  And moreover, we would suggest that when combined with factors like an aging population and increased gains in surrounding states, this number, even if accepted at face value, shows little hope for the professionally anti-gay among us.

So there ya have it -- There's the new NOM/MFI shell game in a nutshell.  If we get bored later today, maybe we'll overanalyze Pinocchio's nose and feign surprise when it continues to grow.

FIVE YEARS AFTER GOODRIDGE: GAY MARRIAGE DIVIDES MASSACHUSETTS VOTERS [NOM]

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Your thoughts

The movable middle! That 11% (which in terms of ballpark numbers, seems to be pretty ubiquitous, even here in California) is the group that has to be swayed in referendum campaigns. They lying liars, like Magaglagher, pull out all the stops in their campaign ads. They are shameless and bald faced in their false depictions of us. And that fact-challenged fear mongering is pretty effective at changing a "live and let live" attitude to an "oh god, this could be devastating" mindset.

And, the movable middle really don't care enough to give much pause to consider the source of the "information" that the lying liars are feeding them. That is why we need to challenge them equally and as aggressive with fact based reason.

We always run campaigns which attempt to show reasonable and rational non-LGBTs who support us, because we are of the opinion that if we put our faces out there that it will push that movable middle further toward the oppose-us side. And, there are a lot of wonderful non-LGBTs out there, and that strategy does work up to a point.

But, our campaigners also seem to think that if we seem too confrontational in our ads that the effect will be the same. I say that the totality of that logic has disappointed us every time that we have used it, and that it is time to step up our game.

We need to put our faces, and our families, and our community forward and prove to that movable middle that the lying liars are feeding them bullshit. And even if we go down in flames, at least we will have the satisfaction of knowing that they truly voted against us because of who we are, and not because of Maggie Gallagher's lies about us.

Posted by: Dick Mills | May 22, 2009 3:17:26 PM

I agree with Dick Mills, we need to fight fire with fire. No more Mr. Nice Gay here.

Oh, and the no-answer/don't know's, if you add that to agree you get 57% which btw is what the ProJo poll tips the favorable to in RI. Interesting isn't it.

Posted by: Tony P | May 22, 2009 4:05:57 PM

Actually 306 is a perfectly valid sample size considering the very high margin of error.

However, I guarantee that the survey was not based on a random sample - which makes the study invalid.

Posted by: Dale | May 22, 2009 4:26:12 PM

Is that enough for a population this size, Dale? I would think it needed to be at least 1,000.

But I'm admittedly far from an expert of polling, which is why I kept the scrutiny mild on that point.

Posted by: G-A-Y | May 22, 2009 4:41:57 PM

Did you see the ages? Their first age group is 18-50...that's a huge age disparity! Older people tend to be more conservative and traditionalist and 76% of their sample was 51 years old or older. This is primary way in which they acquired a bad sample. They also grabbed a lot of Catholics but I don't know if Mass has a lot of Catholics or not.

Posted by: DanM | May 22, 2009 5:04:43 PM

Yea, I did catch that, DanM -- but lost motivation while breaking it down. hey, it's the Friday before a long weekend :-)

Posted by: G-A-Y | May 22, 2009 5:08:22 PM

You guys do such a great job!

It should be no suprise that a virulently anti-gay advocacy group gets the answer it wants in a poll conducted by an anti-equality source. It's the same as the "ex-gay" success rate crap anti-gay activists site. Their view is that the end justifies the means, so whatever they need to do or say to get there is fine to them.

NOM should stop trying to impose its religious beliefs on all other Americans. The US was founded by those fleeing religious tyranny in Europe. 230+ years later, we don't need to legitimize religious tyranny in this country.

Posted by: Michael | May 22, 2009 9:51:00 PM

I love how question 22 actually adds up to 101%; talk about fuzzy math!

Posted by: John Hosty-Grinnell | May 23, 2009 7:00:11 PM

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