Political consultant Frank Luntz calls it “poll-driven language” – the tendency to phrase a question in a way that will generate a desired answer. Operatives on both sides of the aisle have been doing this for years, but it’s especially blatant when it comes to the reporting of support/opposition to same-sex marriage.
Case in point, a recent New York Times story which was headlined, “Support for Gay Marriage Outweighs Opposition in Polls.” The report was based upon an average of various polling data which supposedly revealed that 50% of Americans support same-sex marriage while 45% oppose it.
It makes for a neat and tidy story, but when you dig a little deeper you can see why the polling data never seems to jibe with actual state votes on the issue.
On Tuesday in North Carolina, citizens were asked to vote either “For” or “Against” regarding the following statement:
Constitutional amendment to provide that marriage between one man and one woman is the only domestic legal union that shall be valid or recognized in this State.
When the votes were counted, 61% voted “For” – and 39% voted “Against.”
Yet, when pollsters ask the general populace about the issue, the question is invariably asked very differently. For example:
Gallup: “Do you think marriages between same-sex couples should or should not be recognized by the law as valid, with the same rights as traditional marriages?”
Results: Yes 50%, No 48%
Pew: “Do you strongly favor, favor, oppose, or strongly oppose allowing gay and lesbian couples to marry legally?”
Results: Strongly Favor/Favor: 47%, Oppose/Strongly Oppose: 43%
ABC News/Washington Post: “Do you think it should be legal or illegal for gay and lesbian couples to get married?”
Results: Legal: 52% Illegal: 43%
Contrast these polls with one conducted by our friends at the Alliance Defense Fund, an admittedly socially conservative organization:
Statement: “I believe Marriage should be defined as only a union between one man and one woman.”
Results: Total Support: 62% Total Oppose 36%
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