Quinnipiac poll on Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell – ask a biased question, get a meaningless answer

Timothy Kincaid

February 10th, 2010

brown_peterIn the spring of 2002, Peter A. Brown assailed the mainstream media for being unfair. It was far too liberal and chuck full of bias.

So it is only fair, by Brown’s standards, to look and see if he has any bias in his writing and statements. For example, in 2007 when Brown warned that Democrats could be hurt by supporting gay rights or in 2009 when Brown claimed that reversing Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell could have enormous political risks for President Obama was there possible bias in his position?

Vincent Rossmeier certainly seemed to think so when he reviewed two polls on same-sex marriage, one of which was a Brown led Quinnipiac poll. As Rossmeier noted, how you ask a question will effect the answer that you get.

And this may be particularly true with Quinnipiac’s latest poll on Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. Here is how Peter Brown is selling the results:

Although on the surface the idea of ending “don\’t ask, don\’t tell” is a lot more popular with the American people than it was in 1993, it remains controversial despite the polling numbers.

Even though Mr. Obama now has the Pentagon brass on his side, a fight over allowing gays to serve openly will pit the president against conservatives and other former military leaders. They will argue that Mr. Obama, who never served in the armed forces, is trying to impose his views on the guys and gals in the trenches.

When Americans are asked about some of the details that might be involved with ending the current policy, they are somewhat less supportive of accommodating open homosexuals into the armed forces.

And Brown is right in that the results of his poll can be viewed in such a way as to find “controversy” about “accommodating open homosexuals”. But to get that “controversy”, the Quinnipiac had to word questions in a way that are hard to view as anything other than advocacy and push polling.

The Pentagon, which backed the change in congressional hearings last week, is studying several matters dealing with how to accommodate gays should the change be made. And on those questions the numbers are different than on the basic question.

Opponents of changing the law have long said that support for allowing gays to serve openly would drop once the American public understood some of the changes that might accompany it.

For instance, there is solid public support, 54%-38%, for restrictions on gay service personnel from showing their sexual orientation while on the job. Among military families, that ratio is 59%-33%.

There is also plurality opposition, 50%-43% for the Pentagon providing for the domestic partners of gay soldiers and sailors as they do for the spouses of straight service people. And by a narrow 46%-45%, voters don\’t think that heterosexual personnel should be required to share quarters with gays.

Really? I don’t think so.

First let’s look at how the poll is structured:

Questions 1 through 5 ask about demographics. OK so far.

Then questions 6 through 19 ask about opinions as to how President Obama is doing on foreign policy, in Afghanistan, whether we should be in Afghanistan, etc. The next four questions are about terrorism and whether foreign terrorists should be given civil rights, and the fears about the Christmas Day attacker.

Now that the respondent is warmed up on the fears and drama of our dangers and the uncertainties of military service, comes the questions about gays in the military. We are not provided with questions 24 through 31, but eventually along came

32. Federal law currently prohibits openly gay men and women from serving in the military. Do you think this law should be repealed or not?

After that buildup, it wouldn’t be surprising to find that the answer was “No”. But even after reminding voters that they aren’t happy with Obama’s treatment of terrorists and bombers, 57% said the ban should be repealed (though 12% less than Gallup found eight months ago). Then 66% agreed that the currently policy is discrimination, 65% said that allowing gay troops would not not be divisive or hurt the ability of troops to fight effectively (despite the leading wording of the question), and virtually everyone agreed that the military should not aggressively pursue those revealed by a third party.

But then came Peter Brown’s “gotcha” questions:

36. Do you think gay military personnel should face any restrictions on exhibiting their sexual orientation on the job or not?

I don’t even know what that means. Any restrictions?

Sure. Maybe. I guess whatever restrictions that apply to other personnel.

A better question might be: 36. Do you think gay military personnel should face the same restrictions on sexual expression as are currently applied to other service personnel or should they face additional restrictions?

37. Do you think the Pentagon should be responsible to provide for the domestic partners of gay personnel or not?

The Pentagon should be responsible?

The bias in that question is blatant. Obvious. Glaring.

Why didn’t Quinnipiac ask, “37. Should the domestic partners of gay personnel receive the same benefits as the spouses of heterosexual personnel or not?” Wouldn’t that have been a less biased question, especially since he falsely claims that this is what the results said? It might have received a mostly “not” response, but it would not have the built-in bias that Brown’s wording favored.

And finally

38. Do you think heterosexual military personnel should be required to share quarters with gay personnel or not?

Oooh, required to share!!

I guess this one could have been worse. Brown could have asked if wholesome God-fearing heterosexuals should be force to shower naked with avowed homosexual sex addicts. He could have used the phrase “bunk with” or talked about submarines.

But he did avoid the much more neutral “same housing” or “current quarters”. Ironically, while the military households surveyed were less likely to support the change, they did not oppose being “required to share quarters” any more than the population at large. Perhaps that’s because they know the housing realities and were not scared by Brown’s phrasing.

This poll adds little of real value to the conversation. We know that Americans support the change in policy across almost every demographic and Peter Brown’s efforts to try and downplay that support is of little consequence.

In fact, if there is one thing that Brown’s poll did tell us, it’s that the military families don’t buy the dog and pony show that anti-gays are using to scare Americans on this issue. Nor are they all “conservative young men who share the family values of Republicans”.

When asked about lifting the ban, Republicans in this poll were only 40% supportive as opposed to 48% in military households. And 44% of Republicans thought the change would be divisive while only 38% of military families agreed. This trend continued consistently.

And it also showed that if you want to manufacture “controversy” about “accommodating open homosexuals”, you can always use the highly biased polling methods of Peter A. Brown and Quinnipiac University.

AdrianT

February 10th, 2010

Timothy,

In the 1980s, in the UK we had a very popular political comedy called ‘Yes Minister’ – a satirical sitcom about government. Possibly the funniest programmes ever broadcast on British TV.

Ther is a really funny scene describing how opinion polls can be manipulated exactly as described above….enjoy….

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2yhN1IDLQjo

John

February 10th, 2010

I feel foolish. I didn’t realize that Quinnipiac polling had such low standards. I thought they were a regular polling group.

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