Study: Millions Spent on Campaigns For and Against Gay Marriage Totally Pointless

Categories: LGBT
A New York University professor analyzed dozens of ballot measures concerning gay marriage over the last 20 years and came up with one mighty conclusion in a study released today: expensive campaigns for and against legal recognition of gay couples do jack squat to change voters' opinions.

The report -- commissioned by the gay marriage-supporting Evelyn and Walter Haas, Jr. Fund -- was prepared by Patrick Egan, a NYU public opinion expert, who analyzed 167 pre-election surveys on 32 ballot measures since 1988. He found that people usually do not change in their opinions on gay marriage or domestic partnership during the course of a campaign.

The take-away message: if you want to change hearts and minds, it's gotta happen before the ballot campaign season begins.

"This underscores the simple reality that in the heat of a ballot campaign, it's very difficult to move someone on marriage equality -- voters are being hit with messages from both sides," says Geoff Korrs, the executive director of Equality California, in a press release today. "As a result, it is essential that we have majority support for marriage equality before the final months of a campaign."

The report also found that polls consistently underestimated the amount of voters who would support bans on legal recognition of same-sex couples. "The share of voters projected to support a ban on same-sex marriage is typically about three percentage points less than the actual level of support on election day," the release stated.

Interestingly, the report disproved two theories usually advanced to explain the gap between polling and the final election results. Some have said that people feel pressured to give a pro-gay response to pollsters in LGBT-friendly states, yet the report found that the gap was consistent whether polling was done in live interviews or by an automated system.

Also, some have said voters are confused during polls by what a "no" and "yes" vote means. (Remember those commercials where Margaret Cho explained to the old lady that a "no" vote on Prop. 8 was actually a "yes" to gay marriage?) But the report showed that the gap became no smaller over the course of a typical campaign, indicating that voter confusion was not at fault.

What accounts for the gap? Nobody seems to know, but it means gay marriage supporters need to lead by a "healthy margin" in the polls, Egan says. Three points isn't going to do it.   
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