Protests May Be Changing Minds

Timothy Kincaid

November 24th, 2008

I’m not a big fan of SurveyUSA. I’ll give them credit for being the only survey firm to give consistently gloomy projections about Prop 8, but I’m not convinced that this is indicative of their greater polling abilities. Nevertheless,

SurveyUSA has released a new poll with some interesting results.

One: By a nearly 2 to 1 ratio, Californians want the existing same-sex marriages that occurred prior to Prop 8 passing to remain recognized. I think that we can expect to hear anti-gay activists tell the Court exactly the opposite – but they’re not really known for their honesty anyway.

Two: Those surveyed are split on whether protests will help or hurt the cause, with 28% responding each way. The rest either don’t know, don’t care, or think it won’t at all matter.

I’ll come back to Three.

Four: About 8% of voters who say that they voted for Proposition 8 now say that the protests have changed their opinion. Were 8% of Yes voters now able to change their vote, this amendment would not pass.

Three: This is the result that I find most interesting.

The question was “Did you vote for Proposition 8? Did you vote against Proposition 8? Or did you not vote?”

We know that 52.5% of voters did, indeed, vote “yes” on Proposition 8. But those who responded to this survey reported as follows:

40% voted yes
46% voted no
3% can’t recall
12% didn’t vote

Well, obviously this is either a rather unrepresentative sample (which could be the case) or memory has magically changed.

I have a hypothesis about voters’ recollection. I think we forget that we supported positions which we later find shameful.

We know full well that a very large portion of America did not support racial equality. We know that George Wallace was a hero to many and that busing was very unpopular. But those who recall opposing the civil rights efforts are few and far between. When one has moved from a position of intolerance to a position of tolerance, one’s recollection of previous bias seems to disappear.

Now there may be some who – for political correctness reasons – voted yes on Prop 8 but responded in this survey that they voted no. But 6 or 7 percent? That seems unlikely to me.

I think what this may be showing – though this is only speculation on my part – is that there are California voters who selected “Yes” on Proposition 8 out of default or perhaps even a moment of internal bias but who now “recall” being impressed by the arguments for equality. I think that this will continue over time and is rather surprising to show up so early.

The wave of disbelief, anger, and outrage that has resulted from the proposition seems to be resonating with the public. I predict that come ten years, there will be very few people indeed who recall voting in favor of changing the constitution to exclude gay couples.


November 24th, 2008

I agree with the heart of this post – people’s memory will change to avoid cognitive dissonance and psychologists would back you strongly.

However, this is not an example. We need to divide every number by 0.88 (100%-12% who did not vote) in which case we get, with some rounding error:

45% Yes
52% No
3% Can’t remember

This implies the opposite psychology: that 3% voted Yes and then can’t remember what they did. My thought, Timothy, is that you are still right and people’s memories have changed or at least that they make up most of the forgetful pollers. I’m estimating the poll is inaccurate.


November 24th, 2008

To learn more about how our memories are influenced, I recommend the first half of this fun NPR show:


November 24th, 2008

I’ve noticed a pattern or trend over the years: those who oppose equality for GLBTQ people complain the hardest about tactics, arguments, approaches, that they feel are the most likely to harm their case and benefit ours.

They had little negative to say about the No on 8 campaign, and it failed, and I think they realized early on it was no real threat to them.

But they complained loudly about the possibility of kids learning in public schools that GLBTQ families exist, because that is a long-term challenge to the condemnation of GLBTQ people.

And now they are complaining incessantly about the protests and boycotts – indicating that they fear this particular message.

David C.

November 24th, 2008


In your remark:

“But they complained loudly about the possibility of kids learning in public schools that GLBTQ families exist, because that is a long-term challenge to the condemnation of GLBTQ people.”

That was the pro-8 message that “tested” the best in their focus groups. It was also the message that the No campaign was least effective at neutralizing. Prop 8 No was constantly playing catch-up where it came to teaching same-sex marriage in schools, and the misrepresentation of the “teachable moment” mentioned by the pro-8’s was never countered. That was, in my view, a serious, if not the critical error made by the no on 8 campaign.


November 25th, 2008

I’ve always thought that loud and angry protests went a lot further than the sorts of wussy tactics that have been used in the last several years. They make it known that we’re not a statistic or an abstraction; we’re real people who are being genuinely harmed by these measures. Meanwhile, as evidenced by the response from the churches, not to mention Bill O’Reilly and Newt Gingrich, the religious right is scared out of its wits.

This sort of thing needs to be kept up, even if the California Supreme Court rules in our favor.

L. Junius Brutus

November 25th, 2008

David C. & AJD:
I’m not entirely convinced that they’re reacting rabidly because they’re scared. It may be, but perhaps they are trying to create a backlash.

Speaking of a backlash, it is a shame that SurveyUSA didn’t ask the people who voted ‘no’ about whether they have changed their minds.


November 25th, 2008

L. Junius Brutus: They probably are trying to create a backlash, but I would say that’s a reliable indication that they’re scared. Making wild accusations of “gay fascism” and violence and the willful ignorance of their followers are the only weapons they have in their arsenal.


November 25th, 2008

I think that the loud protests are having an effect. One of the problems during the campaign was that the focus was on gay people, targeting us as a threat to children.

The protests have turned the focus of the attention on to the promoters of discrimination, particularly the Mormon Church. Nobody likes the lens focused on them. We need to remember this in the future. When we are attacked, we need to go right back at the attackers and focus the public’s attention on those who would deny us our rights.


November 25th, 2008

We Do Exist. The protests have caused families to talk about the issue. The religious right says they don’t want LGBT issues taught in schools. The truth is the religious right didn’t want people to really SEE LGBT people.

IMHO, Our protests are like a big out of the closet moment. We have been seen and we are HUMAN. And that changes minds the quickest.


November 25th, 2008

JFK only barely won his election, but after he was assassinated and the nation went through a period of national mourning, surveys found that well over 60% of Americans claimed to have voted for him.

People will either lie about or forget a bad vote when they later regret it. That could well be what’s happening here.

L. Junius Brutus

November 25th, 2008


Alright. Let’s suppose for a moment that these protests are only counterproductive, which I don’t know because there isn’t that much data out there. Do you think that they would hesitate to call us every name in the book, if they thought they could capitalize on it to advance their hatred? So based solely on their reaction, I’m not entirely sure. Not that I don’t hope that you are right.


November 25th, 2008

Junius: Don’t get me wrong — I totally agree that they’re doing this to capitalize on the protests to advance their cause. What I’m saying, however, is that it’s clearly an act of desperation on their part. They’re behaving the way one would expect bigots to behave when confronted with a serious challenge to their bigotry.

Rob Lll

November 25th, 2008

Interesting article.

I’m with Vince Lombardi on this one: “Show me a good loser and I’ll show you a loser”.

The worst thing the community could have possibly done in the aftermath of Prop 8 would be NOT to raise hell. Of course, the “oogedy boogedy” right will attempt to capitalize on the anger to scare their followers, but that’s a hell of a lot better than giving people the impression that this is settled, or that it’s not that important to us, or that no one really is hurt by Prop 8. Which are exactly the conclusions that many would draw if we were gracious about this.

Lynn David

November 26th, 2008

IF the court does rule in favor of “Yes on 8” then in what election down the road could a repeal measure be introduced as a proposition (don’t you know they’ll call that a revision)? Something I remember reading said 10 years, if so, what is the rationale behind such a law that would keep a proposition to repeal from going to election that long?

Timothy Kincaid

November 26th, 2008

Lynn David,

If they rule for Yes on 8, an amendment to reverse Prop 8 will be on the ballot in 2010.

Lynn David

November 26th, 2008

LOL! Ok, I knew there was a “10” in there somewhere

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