Lord Ashcroft has released some more polling on gay marriage, asking a question on whether people would be more or less likely to vote for a party that legalised same-sex marriage.
As regular readers will know, I have an awful lot of reservations about would X make you more or less likely to vote Y questions. To tick them off quickly –
(a) people tend to use the question to register their support or opposition to a policy, regardless of whether it would actually change their vote
(b) people are extremely poor at understanding the drivers of their own voting behaviour anyway
(c) if it asks about a specific party, people who are already voting for that party regardless say it makes them more likely to vote Y, people would would never vote for them anyway say it makes them less likely to vote Y. Neither of these groups matter
(d) by singling it out it gives the issue being asked about a false prominance, when actually lot of other equally or more important issues would be there influencing people’s votes
(e) more or less likely is a pretty low bar. It isn’t saying people definitely would or would not vote Y if X happened, just more or less likely. It’s pretty easy to tell a pollster that to indicate your support or opposition to a policy, it can be a more difficult decision when it comes to an actual ballot box
Despite these problems, more or less likely to vote are much beloved of campaigning and pressure groups as it makes whatever pissant little issue they are campaigning on seem like something incredibly important that will decide elections.
Anyway, this isn’t to particularly criticise Ashcroft’s question, since they’ve done all they can to try and get a decent question out of it – they gave people the option of saying they supported or opposed gay marriage, but that it wouldn’t affect their vote and they looked separately at current Tory voters and potential Tory voters.
Overall, Ashcroft found people in favour of gay marriage by 42% to 31%, with 27% saying they had no real opinion either way. People who were opposed to gay marriage were more likely, however, to say it would affect their vote – overall 10% of people said they were more likely to vote for a party that supported gay marriage, 12% said they were were less likely.
It becomes more interesting when we look at the crossbreaks. Amongst people who voted Tory in 2010 and would still vote Tory today the vast majority say the issue makes no difference – 6% say it would make them more likely to vote for a party, 9% less likely to vote for a party. Amongst lost Tory voters, who voted for the party in 2010 but wouldn’t now 26% say supporting gay marriage would make them less likely to vote for a party and only 4% more likely – this fits nicely with a support that the Conservatives have lost to their right and UKIP.
However, there are two sides to the equation. Looking at the votes the Conservatives have gained since the election 15% say they are more likely to vote for a party that legalises gay marriage compared to 11% less likely. Looking at those who are not voting Tory but may consider it, 12% say they are more likely to vote for a party that supports gay marriage compared to 9% less likely.
Of course while Ashcroft and his pollsters have done their level best to write a good question, most of the caveats above still apply – questions like this give undue prominance to an issue of low saliance and even wording like this it probably grossly overestimates the importance of the issue in voting intention. It does however, as Ashcroft concludes, demonstrate that the effect of gay marriage on voting intention is not all one way.