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.