Another Thought on the Polling Paradox
June 1st, 2012
I want to add another thought to Timothy’s comment here about the gap between polling and vote results on marriage amendments. He raises an excellent point that a good portion of the explanation for the gap — at least as far as how the gap was written about in this particular AP article — ignores the logical fallacy of comparing today’s opinion polls to votes taken four to ten years ago.
And yet we have seen mismatches between what the polls tell us leading up to election days and what finally happens in the voting booth. Let’s take Maine in 2009 as an example. By the end of October, polling showed that those supporting or leaning to support Question 1 was at about 42 percent, while those opposing or leaning to oppose Question 1 were at 52%. But what happened on election day? Question 1 passed 53% to 47%.
The paradox does exist, but I think a lot of people are looking at it wrong. Polls asked about whether people think gay people should be allowed to marry. Because that’s the question polls ask, people are generally inclined to agree that others peoples’ marriages are other peoples’ business.
But as I said before when I expressed my concern that Maine was going to loose despite what the polls said, by the time people go to the voting booth the question isn’t whether gay people should marry or not, but whether their children should be “taught homosexuality” in the schools. That’s a completely different question from what the poll asked. As I said just five days before Maine’s vote:
Frank Schubert, who is running the Stand for Marriage Maine campaign has recognized something that is very fundamental in all politics. Former U.S. House Speaker Tip O’Niel famously said that all politics are local. Schubert recognized that politics aren’t just local, but personal. It hinges on the question, “How will this affect me?” Karen Ocamb’s brilliant analysis of the California campaign which Schubert ran, which should be mandatory reading for everyone, describes very carefully how Schubert came to this conclusion:
During the Prop 8 Case Study workshop, Schubert said he, Flint and their team spent hours “looking at where people were and what we needed to do to reach them.”
What they found was that most Californians were very tolerant of same sex relationships. Schubert said:
“They didn’t see how gay marriage effected them, per se. It wasn’t their issue. It wasn’t something they cared to think about. It wasn’t something they wanted to talk about. It was an uncomfortable subject generally for them event to get their arms around.”
If we really want to win these battles, we need to begin with an understanding of this important truth:
Nobody Cares About Same-Sex Marriage
When I said “nobody cares,” I wanted to make the point that the average voter doesn’t care personally about marriage. It is this insight that our opponents have seized on and used to win the day every time. Thirty-two times we have failed to grasp this important lesson, and thirty-two times we have lost because of it. And every time, it was because we failed to grasp the real question that was before voters. Again, as I wrote in 2009 just five days before the vote:
Stand For Marriage Maine’s “positive” feel-good approach didn’t last long. They have a new ad out: …Notice how it’s loaded with all the bad stuff that you care about – out-of-state militant activists corrupting your values, gay teachers pushing their agenda on your children, militant gay activists in your schools and even your daycare centers. “IT’S ALREADY HAPPENED HERE! DON’T BE FOOLED!”
Here’s Protect Maine Equality’s response: …In a nutshell: please help someone else.
What the Yes on 1 folks in Maine did was make it possible to support marriage equality but vote against Question 1 because the changed the question before the voters. A year later, Maine’s campaign manager Marc Mutty made a startling admission on camera that their campaign message was the equivalent of slamming people over the head with “a two-by-four with nails sticking out of it,” adding, ” it’s the only thing we’ve got — it’s the only way. That’s the way campaigns work.”
There’s a popular saying about defining insanity as doing the same thing over and over but expecting a different result. As a political movement, ours has to be about the most insane of all when it comes to this particular issue. We keep coming up with messages that resonate with us, but which do not connect with the average voter. Until we recognize that nobody deeply cares about same-sex marriage — but they do care about other things which more directly affect them — then we’re going to keep on losing for a very long time.