Poll Results a Matter of Pedantics?

( [email protected] ) Feb 07, 2004 01:19 PM EST

Several polls on the American support of a constitutional marriage amendment showed inconsistent results, revealing a battle not so much in principal, but rather in the question’s wording.

"It's confusing in part because the public itself doesn't have a really strong view," David W. Moore, senior editor of the Gallup Poll, said of the results. "What I interpret from all the numbers that I've seen is that the public generally is opposed in principal to granting the status of marriage to gays, but is ambulant about whether a constitutional amendment should be added to the Constitution to forbid that."

In general, according to the Gallup editor, the disparities between the results reside in the questions asked. While Americans oppose same-sex "marriage" by a wide margin in nearly every poll, they are somewhat undecided as to the remedy.

The difference in poll numbers could be as simple as the word “forbid,” Moore said.

For example, comparing the December results of a New York Times poll that said 55 percent of Americans supported a constitutional marriage amendment, and the Annenberg poll that showed 52 percent opposed it, Moore said the difference may be as simple as the word “forbid.”

The New York Times poll asked, "Would you favor or oppose an amendment to the U.S. Constitution that would allow marriage only between a man and a woman?" Fifty-five percent favored an amendment, while 40 percent opposed it. The Annenberg poll asked, "Do you favor or oppose the federal government adopting an amendment banning gay marriage?" Fifty-two percent were opposed, 40 percent in favor.

"If you say 'forbid,' you'll get more people opposed than if some different kind of wording is used," Moore said. "When that happens, that usually suggests that people's views on the matter are not really rock solid. It doesn't mean that some people don't have rock-solid views, but it means that there may be enough people out there whose views are fairly tepid, who are therefore influenced by the nuances in the way the questions are worded."

The Shreveport Times ran an article on same-sex "marriage" Jan. 31 saying that a "majority of Americans" in an ABC News/Washington Post poll opposed a constitutional amendment. Other media outlets, including The Los Angeles Times, quoted the poll.

But the poll did not ask a yes-or-no question about an amendment. Instead it asked, "Would you support amending the U.S. Constitution to make it illegal for homosexual couples to get married anywhere in the U.S., or should each state make its own laws on homosexual marriage?" Thirty-eight percent of those polled favored the amendment, while 58 percent favored states rights.

To complicate the issue, the ABC News poll also asked Americans, "Do you think it should be legal or illegal for homosexual couples to get married?" Fifty-five percent said it should be illegal.

Nevertheless, most polls showed support for an amendment. Including an August Associated Press poll asked, "Congress is considering a constitutional amendment that marriage should only be between a man and a woman. Would you favor or oppose the amending of the Constitution to specify marriage should be between a man and a woman?" Fifty-four percent favored it, 42 percent opposed it.

An August FOX News poll asked, "Would you favor or oppose passing a constitutional amendment that would define marriage as being between a man and a woman?" Fifty-eight percent favored it, 34 percent opposed it.

"It could very well be that if it becomes a very big issue in the presidential campaign that it might help solidify public opinion one way or the other," Gallup's Moore said. "... [But] to try and come down to a pinpoint accuracy where the public stands [today] on this issue is going to be difficult."