Thursday, June 24, 2010

Going to the polls: $40million wasted?

You may remember that in the run up to PropH8, our side got a little complacent. Polls suggested that we were in the lead. In Maine, too, it looked as though we could win. Sadly, we know in both those places that we lost equality.

So what happened?

A new study suggests that polls routinely understate the opposition to marriage equality. They are pretty accurate on the support, but the opposition is more than recorded. Moreover, the opinions are pretty firm, and do not change appreciably during the campaign.

NYU political scientist Patrick Egan studied 167 polls in 33 states with marriage bans over a 10 year period, and compared it to the election results. (PDF here)
  • Those favoring and opposing the ballot measures have largely fought to a draw, in that the share of the public saying they intend to vote for or against these measures typically changes very little over the course of these campaigns. Neither side has been more successful than the other on average at changing voter sentiment between the beginning and the end of a campaign.

  • Nevertheless, survey data consistently underestimate voter opposition to legal recognition of samesex couples. The share of voters in pre‐election surveys saying they will vote to ban same‐sex marriage is typically seven percentage points lower than the actual vote on election day. By contrast, survey estimates of the proportion of voters intending to vote against same‐sex marriage bans tend to be relatively accurate predictors of the ultimate share of “no” votes.

  • Voter surveys do not become appreciably more accurate as election day approaches, meaning that even those polls conducted in a campaign’s final weeks understate the true share of the vote against legal recognition of same‐sex couples. Support for a ban on samesex marriage projected from final polling typically falls three percentage points short of actual results.

  • No support is found for two reasons—social desirability bias and voter confusion– typically offered to explain the gap between surveys and election results. There is no immediate evidence indicating that the discrepancies are caused either by poll respondents’ reluctance to express anti‐gay sentiment to survey researchers or respondents’ confusion about the meaning of a “yes” and “no” vote.

But what this means is that the election is basically won or lost before we start. We have to change hearts and minds BEFORE we start the campaign. And that means delaying the campaign until we have done the groundwork, to lay in that solid level of support. And the only way to tell that is, well, polling.


JCF said...

Perhaps we need to MORE VIGOROUSLY fight the unconstitutionality of these bans in the courts before they're approved for the ballot? [If essentially such ballot bills are lost before Election Day, then keeping them off the ballot IS The Fight!]

IT said...

I think what we need to do is fight every day, by coming out. my wife is tremendous at using the "wife" word. Since she passes easily, this can be a surprise...and start a conversation.

We have to win this at the box and that means we have to get a >50% support before we go back to the ballot.

Erika Baker said...

I don't understand why the polls get it so consistently wrong. Are we supposed to assume that in the same sex marriage debate alone staunch opponents consistently lie to the pollsters for some obscure reason?

IT said...

Yes, Erika, that's what the data say. Whether people are embarrassed to admit that they oppose GLBT rights, or want to avoid the conversation all together, it has happened over and over again. The only number that seems pretty solid is the people favoring equality. And no matter what the campaigns say, these numbers don't change much.