Pollster: Most 'gay marriage' polls skewed
Posted on Aug 16, 2010 | by Michael Foust
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)--A leading pollster whose company favors liberal causes says most polls on "gay marriage" can't be trusted because Americans -- not wanting to be labeled intolerant -- are hesitant to state their position on the issue to a live interviewer.
Tom Jensen, director of the North Carolina-based Public Policy Polling, says automated polls -- that is, polls in which a person does not talk to someone but instead can press buttons on a phone keypad -- are more reliable. His company uses automated polling.
Public Policy Polling's latest poll, released Aug. 13, shows Americans opposing "gay marriage" by a margin of 57-33 percent. That poll conflicts with a new CNN poll that used live callers and showed a slight majority of adults thinking there is a constitutional right to "gay marriage." Both polls were conducted after a federal judge struck down California's constitutional amendment defining marriage as between one man and one woman.
Polls released by Gallup, CNN, The New York Times and all the major news networks use live callers. Only a handful of major polling companies use automated polling, among them Rasmussen Reports and SurveyUSA.
Public Policy Polling was the only company last year that correctly predicted Maine citizens would vote to overturn a "gay marriage" law.
"[People are] more likely to tell their true feelings on an automated poll where there's no social anxiety concern than to a live interviewer who they may be worried about the reaction of," Jensen, who supports "gay marriage," wrote on the Public Policy Polling blog. "It is frankly impossible, based on the results of gay marriage referendums over the last decade, to believe that a majority of Americans support its legalization. Dark blue states like California and Maine voted against it just in the last two years."
The Public Policy Polling poll asked 606 registered voters, "Do you think same-sex marriage should be legal or illegal?" The CNN poll asked 496 adults, "Do you think gays and lesbians should have a constitutional right to get married and have their marriage recognized by law as valid?" Fifty-two percent said "yes" and 46 percent "no." The CNN poll was hailed by "gay marriage" supporters as the first-ever national survey to support their cause.
Statewide ballot initiatives, Jensen said, are a far better predictor of the nation's feelings on the issue. "Gay marriage" has lost in all 31 states where it has been placed on the ballot. Conservatives long have complained that polling on "gay marriage" underreported their side's views.
"Obama states like Wisconsin and Virginia rejected it by 14 and 18 point margins in 2006 and red states like South Carolina and Tennessee did so by 56 and 62 point margins," Jensen wrote. "The actual votes we have had on same sex marriage in many states across the country are a more dependable barometer of opinion on the issue than any polling and they tell the story of an American public still pretty opposed to it."
Last year the final poll by Public Policy Polling showed Maine Question 1 winning, 51-47. The final margin was 53-47 percent. Question 1 overturned a state law that had legalized "gay marriage." The final poll by every other polling organization had it losing, with one poll showing it behind by 11 points. A similar pattern was seen in California in 2008 on Proposition 8, with automated polls coming closer to predicting the final outcome. A Public Policy Institute of California poll from October 2008 that used live callers showed Prop 8 losing, 52-44 percent. It passed, 52-48 percent.
According to the latest survey, Republicans oppose "gay marriage," 81-12 percent, as do independents, 48-41 percent. Democrats favor it 47-40. Every age group also opposed it, including those under 30, 52-44 percent.
The latest poll, though, did have some bad news for conservatives: 53 percent of Americans believe "gay marriage" will be legal in 20 years.
Michael Foust is an assistant editor of Baptist Press. For a Q&A on the Prop 8 ruling, visit http://www.bpnews.net/bpnews.asp?id=33464