Poll Wars

You may have seen this recent Washington Post/ABC poll: the latest and, in my view, most reliable of the still-few national polls which have shown an outright majority of Americans favoring same-sex marriage.

I have been as careful as anyone to read the polls cautiously. When people are offered the third alternative of civil unions, support for SSM falls to the 30-40 percent range (though the trend has been upward). And it is true that more people say they support same sex marriage than vote for it.

That said, I scratch my head when reading conservatives’ interpretation of the poll. “Don’t believe it,” says a National Review editorial (April 18):

Respondents seem to tell interviewers that they favor same-sex marriage because they think it’s what they are supposed to say. Their answers are more negative when voting or responding to robo-polls… The poll is not evidence that a majority of Americans support same-sex marriage. It is, however, evidence that its supporters have succeeded in setting the terms of the debate.

Or that, says Maggie Gallagher, they have succeeded in “intimidating and silencing” gay-marriage opponents. “America is becoming a place where people have to be wary about saying what they believe.” Got that? Gay marriage opponents are…an oppressed majority.

Having relied so long on the argument that elites are trying to ram gay marriage down the throats of an unwilling majority, opponents now have their backs to the wall. In the face of evidence of shifting public opinion, they have little choice but to deny.

Even if it is true, however, that people are growing more reluctant to express opposition to SSM—which, by the way, would be evidence of changing public morality, not of “intimidating and silencing”—it strains credulity to say that nothing but bullying is reflected in Pollster.com’s Charles Franklin’s splendid scatterplots of poll results going back more than two decades.

As the charts show, support for SSM rises slowly but steadily over time, and opposition declines—on both the two-way and three-way questions. Are we to believe these results measure nothing more than the creeping menace of gay bullying?

Here’s something else, from Gallup. Over a decade, the trends in approval of same-sex relations mirror the trends in approval of same-sex marriage. Is that “intimidation” too? A coincidence?

To me it seems pretty hard to sustain, with a straight face, the claim that these polls don’t represent real changes in public opinion. I don’t think there’s a national voting majority in the U.S. for same-sex marriage. But I do think the day is coming.

One reason is the poor job that SSM opponents have done convincing the public that keeping gay couples out of marriage will help keep straight couples in. Another is their refusal to address the country’s growing moral compassion for gay Americans. Denial doesn’t cut it.

4 Comments for “Poll Wars”

  1. posted by Jorge on

    It does seem like there have been several very favorable polls in a row. That can’t be just a coincidence.

  2. posted by Hunter on

    There are no surprises here — the anti-gay movement, including opponents of same-sex marriage, is one based on deception and denial. Gallagher et al. are among the most fundamentally dishonest people in public life today, holding a position that is steadily eroding — what can they do but attack the messenger?

  3. posted by Tom on

    The trend lines are clear, and consistent over time.

    What I find most interesting is that (in rough terms) the trend lines are more or less straightforward — that is, if you extrapolate forward from the pre-2000 trend line to the present, not taking into account the dip resulting from the Rove 2004 “faggot, faggot” extravaganza, the trend lines end up just about where they are now with the dip.

    I don’t know what that tells you, but it suggests to me that the whole “faggot, faggot” strategy that played out during the 2004-2006 election cycles was wasted effort in terms of the long run.

    • posted by Jorge on

      What “faggot faggot” extravaganza? It was a backlash, all right, but it had nothing to do with anti-gay slurs.

      I think what we saw in those years was an actual sleeping giant awakened, and it threw its weight around, all right. Then it dozed off again, obviously without causing a permanant re-alignment. They got a lot done in that time, but the flip side is that so can we.

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