The Poll That Matters In The End


July 11, 2013

This morning at a press conference, the Human Rights Campaign released a poll it commissioned on Virginians’ attitudes towards same-sex marriage. In sweeping statements, the HRC lauded Virginians for “support[ing] marriage equality” evidenced by its 55 percent-41 percent poll.

However, after Virginians affirmed traditional marriage 57 percent to 43 percent on the ballot in 2006, Virginians have continued in subsequent elections to select candidates who oppose marriage redefinition. Despite biased HRC polling, elections have proved that the tide has not changed to the degree the ACLU and the HRC would like the public to believe.

Social issues like homosexuality have dynamics at play that cannot be measured with simple polling. Asking 600 people (as this poll did) a simple question doesn’t get to the core of complex issues. It makes for interesting editorial page fodder, but it’s doubtful that many people will take it seriously.

Polling on social issues is finicky, particularly on the issue of homosexuality. A lot of people will tell the pollster what they think the pollster wants to hear. For example, look at same-sex marriage polling. Polls have indicated that people support same-sex marriage, but when it goes to the ballot, we have seen the overwhelming majority of states reject marriage redefinition.

And I haven’t even mentioned the structural errors contained in this poll:


It’s hard not to be dismissive of a poll that begins the day the high court holds that those that support traditional marriage do so out of hostile animosity rather than caring for the best outcomes for children. How honest do you suppose responders will be when their beliefs risk being labeled “motivated by animus”?

Margin of Error

The HRC poll had a margin of error of ±4.9 percent. In my statistics class in college, I was taught that 3 percent was a good margin of error and that 4 percent was pushing the line of accuracy. However, ~5 percent? My professor would not have let me publish a 5 percent margin of error poll . . . not even if it was buried beneath the fold in the school newspaper and labeled “not for scientific use.”

Survey Size and Constituency

The poll surveyed 600 Virginia adults, not likely voters. In regards to Virginia law, it doesn’t matter what 600 Virginia adults think if they aren’t registered to vote or don’t plan to vote if the issue were to be placed on the ballot!

But most importantly, the element of the HRC press release that bothers me most is their discussion of the faith community. While some prefer apathy, it is impossible to not notice the winner-takes-all conflict between sexual freedom and religious liberty. Here is a direct quote from HRC’s press release under the category of “Cultural challenges still emerge in Virginia”:

These homophobic messages creep out . . . religion also plays a role . . . fifteen percent of the state report hearing anti-gay messages from the pulpit and, when asked about directly, 17 percent of the state heard their pastor, rabbit [sic], priest or other religious figure deliver an anti-gay sermon.

How much longer will a pastor have the freedom to preach an expository sermon on Romans 1? Religious liberty is an impediment to sexual freedom’s triumph. We cannot claim ignorance when we see these attacks.

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7 Responses to “The Poll That Matters In The End”

  1. Edie says:

    The number of supporters doesn’t even matter, though I am inclined to believe the poll. The important piece is that, like Emancipation and Civil Rights, it does not matter if majority is for or against. What matters is equality for all. Popular support (which gay marriage very much has) only pushes the legislation. Which is why Scalia’s head was about to explode at the ruling. He knows the domino has been set in place to ripple gay marriage into every state. This is set up very much like Loving v. Virginia- a time when if a poll had been taken, a majority would have been against interracial marriage. But the right things come around in time, and gay marriage is one of those right things. I can’t understand why it troubles you so.

  2. M Mirabelle says:

    Dear Ms Cochran,

    Thank you for your opinions. In light of the way that American government works, however, I think your post misses an essential point. What really will matter in the end is the judicial decision of whether banning same-sex marriage is fundamentally constitutional or not. If its found to be unconstitutional to deny marriage equality, the majority opinion of citizens won’t matter on the end, because no majority can legislate something that is fundamentally illegal in the eyes of the Constitution.

    There’s plenty of history of this in Virginia. Most sadly was when the majority of Virginians passed laws discriminating against African Americans in all kinds of overt ways. Clearly unconstitutional, these Jim Crow laws nevertheless enjoyed strong majority support among Virginians. But they collapsed as courts ruled them at odds with freedoms and rights enshrined for all citizens in the Constitution.

    Additionally….your piece points out some technical issues with the poll, but overall it’s probably correct to say that the poll is generally accurate. It is in step with the vast majority of other public opinion polls nationwide on this issue, and one certainly wouldn’t expect a moderate leaning state (on national issues) such as Virginia to suddenly come down on the more conservative side of this issue.

    The poll simply reflects the breakneck speed at which public opinion has changed on this issue. This certainly makes old election results and the 2006 referendum results obsolete in 2013. Opinion has changed dramatically even within the last year, as DOMA, Prop 8, and the Boy Scouts decisions have all worked to quickly change and reflect public opinion at lightning velocity.

    The Family Foundation should consider articulating, in detail, the real reasons they so adamantly oppose same-sex marriage, rather than retreating to complaints about polls and discussions of the politics of the issue that overlooks the three-branch model of American governance. They need to demonstrate conclusive objective evidence why they find it to actually be harmful to American society and culture. The reason organizations like the Family Foundation have lost so much ground on this issue is because they just haven’t shown how it hurts people.

    Yes, it’s well known that the Family Foundation believes strongly that same-sex marriage is unbiblical. And they have every right to bring that to the marketplace of ideas for the public to consider. But can they articulate a data-driven argument that shows why and how this unbiblical phenomenon is causing real damage to people and society? Absent that, it’s reasonable to predict that the Bible-based argument won’t gain broad public support. Does the Family Foundation oppose same-sex marriage because, in their view, it is unBiblical, or because it has a demonstrated, research-supported harmful effect on Americans?

    Thank you for the work you do.

    God’s peace be with you.

    • familyfoundation says:

      M Mirabelle,

      Thank you for your response – I appreciate your thoughtful dialogue. You posed a question asking The Family Foundation to articulate “a data-driven argument” to explain why we oppose the redefinition of marriage and to provide evidence that same-sex marriage is “causing real damage to people and society.” I’m glad you’ve asked that question as believe it is at the crux of this important debate.

      The Family Foundation respects the ability of adults to make choices about their relationships without needing the government’s permission to do so; however, we cannot commend same-sex marriage as beneficial for society or children and therefore cannot support legal endorsement/incentives for a relationship that does not provide the best opportunity for flourishing for children and society.

      The latest and most comprehensive research continues to confirm what social science has shown for decades: children do better when raised by a married mother and father. The New Family Structures Study by Mark Regnerus of the University of Texas – Austin and a report based on Census data recently released in the highly respected journal Demography support this idea.

      Marriage is society’s least restrictive means for guaranteeing a child’s well-being; marriage is the most ancient welfare system known to mankind. Consequently, the structural breakdown of marriage through redefinition (or divorce for that matter) weakens the foundation of civil society and increases government intrusion into family life. American law recognizes marriages between one man and one woman because it benefits society in a way no other relationship can – it alone has the potential to produce new members of society in a structure uniquely centered on the well-being of children. Left-leaning research organization, ChildTrends, states “Research clearly demonstrates that family structure matters for children and the family structure that helps children the most is a family headed by two biological parents in a low-conflict marriage … There is thus value for children in promoting strong, stable marriages between biological parents.”

      The Family Foundation supports marriage between one man and one woman because we believe that it is the institution that best promotes the flourishing of children and society.

      Thanks for your question.
      -Jessica Cochrane

  3. Marc says:

    Dear Ms. Cochran,
    I too find that the type of argument your organization has long relied on to oppose same-sex civil marriage has been losing ground year by year, yes even here in Virginia, as the polls decidedly do show. It worked for a while to try to convince Americans that marriage is a Bible-based institution and therefore gay Americans should be kept out of it, but as each year goes by more and more everyday families have simply gotten to know gay and lesbian neighbors, siblings, children, coworkers, and — in my own children’s case–parents, and find the simple truth about marriage right staring them in the face: It’s all about having basic legal protections for the ones you love, especially the most vulnerable such as the thousands of children who have been lovingly raised by same-sex couple for a long time now.
    The first 1600 years of Jewish history covered by the Bible–from the time of Abraham to the time of Jesus–sanction Biblical marriages, including that of Abraham,in which one man is united with many women and has a small collection of slaves to go with them. Even St. Paul, who told us it is “better to be the husband of but one wife,” did not forbid multiple wives, and he urged Christian slaves to be — not liberated, but good slaves.
    No thank you, Christian fundamentalists. I like my secular, enlightenment democracy–roundly condemned as a form of government by Christian bishops for 1700 years–just the way it is: well separated from religion. That includes my and my neighbors’ legally protected marriages, as well as our legally regulated divorces [also condemned by Christian bishops for 1800 years].
    Thank God, your ungodly argument has finally lost.
    –Marc DeFrancis
    Arlington, VA

  4. John Respess says:

    Could somebody please tell me what the new definition of marriage is?

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