Public Religion Research Institute survey shows current status of support in California

Timothy Kincaid

July 22nd, 2010

The Public Religion Research Institute released a survey today about the attitudes of Californians on gay issues. PRRI is a progressive organization and the survey was funded by strong supporters of our community, so we must be cautious to look for bias. As I believe that the language of the Survey Report lends itself to a slightly rosy translation rather than strict interpretation of the numbers, I’ll mostly focus on the results.

The methodology was a randomly selected telephone survey of 2,801 adults with additional oversamples of African Americans and Latino Protestants (this was relevant due to a desire to find statistically valid conclusions about of those populations). This is a sufficiently large sample to provide meaningful information. The results were subsequently weighted to correct for oversampling, and to allow for comparisons between categories of participants.

I’ve reviewed the questions of the poll and do not think that this is a poll which is designed to generate specific answers. However, the language leading up to some questions does, in my opinion, set up the participant to view gay rights in terms of “chances in life” and some follow up questions seem to be a bit on the persuasive rather than inquisitive side.

All that being said, here are the findings of the PRRI survey:

Q.7 Which of the following statements comes closest to your views

42% Gay couples should be allowed to marry
31% Gay couples should be allowed to form civil unions, but not marry OR
24% There should be no legal recognition of a gay couple’s relationship

This seems to be very similar to the findings of the Field Poll, well within the probability range. I think we can assume that these probably represent the attitudes and perspectives of Californians.

Q.10 Do you believe that gay and lesbian couples who want to get married are trying to change the institution of marriage or join it?

39% Change it
57% Join it
4% Don’t know

This is an interesting finding. It seems that some participants believe that gay people have no ill intention towards marriage or any desire to revise it, yet they still prefer civil unions to marriage. This is a demographic that may be open to arguments about fairness and equality.

It also suggests that about 4 in 10 Californians have been receptive to the campaign of lies and villainization that enemies of equality have waged. To reach these people we must assure them that we are not trying to make marriage mean anything other than what it has always meant.

Q.12 In 2008, Californians voted on Proposition 8, the state constitutional amendment to eliminate the right of same-sex couples to marry in California. Did you vote “Yes” to eliminate the right of same-sex couples to marry, or did you vote “No” on Proposition 8.

39% Yes
49% No
8% Did not vote on Proposition 8
4% Don’t know

Obviously this is not how Californians voted on Proposition 8 (it passed with 52.2% of the vote) and there are a few possibilities why. It could be that this is a bad sample. Or it could be that the language of the question made the participants embarrassed to answer the question honestly.

But I think that this is an answer that is consistent with the way in which voters respond after the fact. Surveys which ask “who did you vote for” consistently find that those polled disproportionately “recall” having voted for the winner, especially if he’s popular.

This isn’t because they are dishonest. Rather, it’s because they probably were not a firm vote and went back and forth in their mind before casting their vote. So their current thinking influences their recollection and they recall having favorable attitudes for the winner and disfavorable towards the guy they actually voted for.

In this case, however, the majority of participants who voted “recall” being on the losing side. This would only make sense if they now consider Proposition 8 to have been a bad idea. Which brings us to:

Q.15 Do you think the passage of Proposition 8 was a good thing for California, a bad thing or do you think it hasn’t really made any difference?

22% A good thing
29% A bad thing
45% Hasn’t made any difference
4% Don’t know

Slightly more say “a bad thing”, but not enough to really account for the variance between Q.12 and the actual vote. So a chunk of the “no difference” crowd would have to be generally negative towards Prop 8 in order for this survey to have any consistency at all.

And it appears that they are.

Q.16 If you had to vote on a similar ballot proposition tomorrow, would you vote to keep same-sex marriage illegal or would you vote to allow gay and lesbian couples the opportunity to get married?

45% Vote to keep same-sex marriage illegal
51% Vote to allow gay and lesbian couples to get married
4% Don’t know.

A review of the polling compared to the results on gay marriage issues shows that pre-election polls often have the gay supporting percentage correct but that all of the “unknowns” vote against equality. So this is a squeaker.

What follows are a few questions that I think advise us as to our future efforts. Going forward, it seems that we need to educate and inform and be diligent in challenging the lies that are regularly told by those who seek to keep us denied civil equality.

Q.26.d Sexual orientation is determined at birth

26% Completely agree
25% Mostly agree
20% Mostly disagree
21% Completely disagree
8% Don’t know

Not only do we need to educate about the evidence surrounding the etiology of sexual orientation, we need to educate about the phrasing of this question. The issue is not whether orientation is “determined at birth” but whether it is a naturally occurring phenomenon over which each of us has little or no input and that for many gay people biology plays a key role.

In other words, the issue isn’t whether there is a “gay gene” but rather whether orientation can be “caused” or whether, like handedness, it just develops.

Q.26.e Homosexual orientation can be changed

15% Completely agree
19% Mostly agree
21% Mostly disagree
37% Completely disagree
8% Don’t know

It looks like our stories and our honesty is being heard. But with 34% still buying into the “change” myth, we have a ways to go.

The survey also found that 67% mostly or completely agree that gay and lesbian relationships should be accepted by society and that 60% mostly or completely disagree with the statement that “sexual relations between two adults of the same gender is always wrong.” Additionally, 25% believe that they are more supportive of gay rights than they were five years ago while 8% think they have become less supportive.

The Survey Report has some additional analysis. For me, the fascinating parts are the comparisons of various religious participants and how church denomination, attendance, and pastoral message influences attitudes, both negatively and positively.


July 22nd, 2010

The results for the Golden Rule are interesting. If you ask people (paraphrasing), “Should we apply the Golden Rule and allow same-sex couples to marry?” they are much more likely to agree than if you just ask, “Should we allow same-sex couples to marry?” Groups that oppose marriage become less opposed or evenly divided when you bring in the Golden Rule.

However, this question also specifies long-term committed couples. The question should have been split in two, so we could see what makes more of a difference: the Golden Rule or long-term commitment. Click the link in the last paragraph and then do a search for “Golden Rule.”


July 22nd, 2010

About 1/3 of people identify as conservative evangelical/fundamentalist Christians, so that would identify who this nearly one third is that think we can change. I’d be really interested to see what these numbers looked like had they had a result that controlled for their answers so that we can see what things look like outside of that camp.

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