I return once again, with a heavy heart, to the issue of gay marriage. There is more rather one-eyed polling by the campaign against gay marriage, dutifully reported the Telegraph. The way polling commissioned by the lobby opposed to gay marriage is reported by the newspapers and those commissioning it is almost a masterclass in poor interpretation of polls.

Firstly we have the problems of polls conducting using agree/disagree statements, which risk bias in the direction of the statement asked (which I have written about at length here) and often give contradictory answers if properly balanced with statements in the other direction. For example, in this poll 62% of people agreed with the statement “marriage should continue to be definied as a life-long exclusive commitment between a man and a woman”. The campaign against gay marriage have consistently focused on this question and interpreted this as meaning that 62% of people are opposed to gay marriage. However, the same poll found people agreeing by 44% to 38% that “legalising gay marriage is important because maintaining the distinction between civil partnerships and marriage worsens public attitudes towards gay people”. One could just as easily cherry pick that question from the poll and claim that more people support than oppose gay marriage.

As I have written before, we have a multitude of polls that have actually asked directly whether or not people support the legalisation of gay marriage, and they should really be the starting point for anyone looking for polling evidence of whether people support or oppose gay marriage. I summarised the main polling on the issue earlier this month, but suffice to say, polling asking a straightforward question on whether people support or oppose gay marriage consistently finds more people support it than oppose it. Polls that offer more nuanced options, and ask if people support gay marriage, only civil partnerships, or neither gay marriage nor civil parterships, still consistently find support for gay marriage in the mid-40s, but normally find a substantial minority of people who support civil partnerships but not gay marriage, so sometimes show more people opposed to gay marriage than support it.

Secondly we have “would X make you more or less likely to vote for party Y” questions. Again, I have ranted about these at length before, but essentially it is a type of polling question which gives false prominence to and therefore greatly overstates the importance of specific policies when voting intention is actually driven by broad perceptions of parties, their competence, leaders, capability on major issues like the economy and so on.

Now we have that hoary old chestnut of a poll showing people want a referendum on gay marriage. As previously discussed, if asked in an opinion poll people want a referendum on almost everything – unsurprisingly, given that questions on referendums basically boil down to “would you like to have a say on this or should it be left to the hated politicians to decide”. It doesn’t mean there is some huge untapped demand for a referendum on that particular issue, people support a referendum on anything you ask about (the one exception I have managed to track down was a MORI poll back in 2001 that found people did not want a referendum on abolishing the monarchy)

Why do I keep coming back to this? I think its mostly the consistently credulous and one-sided reporting of polls on gay marriage in some sections of the press. Readers of some newspapers could be forgiven for thinking that the polling showed that the public were opposed to gay marriage, when any fair minded look at the broad range of polling on the issue would show that the balance of opinion is broadly positive towards it.

168 Responses to “So it comes to this, a poll on a gay marriage referendum. Sigh…”

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  1. Laszlo,

    Dictatorship, inflation, the Terror, the Law of the Maximum etc.

    That’s not to say that the preceding regime was good. However, I do believe that a less radical revolution would have been much, much better.

    Paul Croft,

    I think I was simply confused by your phrase “tinkering with, alteration and change”. I assumed that the last two implied that there are plenty of circumstances that the first isn’t appropriate. (I agree there are some: there was clearly a need for radical change across Europe in 1945 and 1989.)

    The Other Howard,

    I have very little desire to prove to you that it is right. I don’t believe that getting drunk or smoking is right, morally. What I do mildly care about convincing you is that you should tolerate, without necessarily accepting, gay marriage.

  2. Bill Patrick
    I think we’re drifting in to is/ought confusion territory.
    It is true that these concepts are man-made and susceptible to change but that clearly doesn’t imply that change *ought* to occur.

    But what *ought* to be the construction of society is the whole point of politics and the entire purpose of the state. Whether your societal construct is ‘better’ or more stable according to an objective measurement.
    This applies whether you believe in liberal contractual and property law or law based upon conservative privilege.
    As Marx correctly put it – political power is merely the organised power of one class for oppressing another.

    [This isn’t to say I personally believe all state types are justified (which itself circular since all justifications are man-made and subject to change) only that aqll societal constructs are man madeand subject to change]

  3. TOH:

    There’s a lot about moderb society that I don’t like. The problem is that. apart from my excellent idea pf a share-a-cave hermit colony, there’s little we can do about it. Like you I am a family-first person but in longing for the old days you are also longing for children up chimneys, public executions and worse.

    I don’t long for those things and feel that, taken in the round, I’d rather live now than at any other time. I also feel that the next 20/30 years may be the best time to leave – not that I’ll have much choice anyway…………………

  4. WELSH [email protected] Guy

    Nice to see discussion of Welsh politics on here for a change.

    Meanwhile, we have at last moved on from process (necessary though that was), to substance, here.

    Good report from the STUC, challenging both sides in our debate, on specific concerns.


  5. It’s going. I can just feel it…..

  6. AMBER

    @”David Cameron wishes to spread the privilege of marriage. Isn’t this exactly the kind of thing which the supporters of his conference speech should be applauding? There are so few privileges which can truly be spread without them ceasing to be “privileges” but marriage is one which can be. Why aren’t you pleased?”

    I’m inclined to respond -why do you care , given the disdain you expressed here for marriage, and the wish for purely civil/contractual arrangements.

    Is this a priority for this Government right now?

    Is an overwhelming desire for same-sex marriage , as opposed to civil partnership evident in polling of the homosexual community?

    My impression is that the answer to both is “no”.( If I am wrong about the second, I would like to know)

    Other than that, I can only refer you back to CB11’s remarks which express my feeling pretty well.

  7. @ Tinged Fringe

    “Direct democracy seems to work pretty well in Switzerland without major economic upsets.”

    It may be because Switzerland is a small and largely homogenous country. Switzerland has voted for discriminatory measures at the ballot box. That’s one reason that many people dislike direct democracy. I do too. But that’s not the only problem with it.

    I think what you often lose in direct democracy is the sausage making process, the back scratching process, and the logrolling process. No, it’s not very pretty to watch. Some people hate politics for that very reason. But it’s often essential to good governance and moving forward key peices of legislation. I just saw the movie Lincoln this past Thursday and I tip my hat to Stephen Spielberg who actually is able to make sausage making look compelling and dramatic.

    In direct democracy, you also lose legislative expertise. Because anyone can write any type of law they want and submit it to voters, there’s no way of quality controlling whether a law is feasible or even a good idea.

    @ Allan Christie

    “Well that’s his views I’m affraid but I think he is just trying to look at the bigger and long term picture… in a negative way!!”

    Hmmm, well I’ve never met your friend. But maybe he’s the pessimistic type who’s decided he’s never going to find someone who he’s actually going to marry and has decided that in retribution towards everyone else, he’s going to oppose marriage equality.

  8. @ Pete B

    “If I can try to turn this into a more politically-oriented discussion:
    Over the last twenty or thirty years Labour has received the majority of support from immigrants. I don’t have figures to prove this, but the fact that they dominate seats in inner-city areas with high immigrant communities seems to point in this direction.

    Will there come a point where this support starts to fall away (perhaps towards Respect) because of the socially-conservative views of immigrant communities clashing with the socially-liberal attitudes of Labour?”

    It’s possible. But it seems to me that sometimes these social issues get put on the backburner depending on the community. Plus I feel like it would have already happenned given Labour’s time in power and their legislative enactments that were socially liberal. Yet Labour’s vote among immigrant communities held up pretty well.

  9. @ Bill Patrick

    I see. Thanks. I think it wouldn’t be right to open any kind of discussion about the GFR here. I have very different views about it.

    But now I can better understand your post (and more strongly disagree). Thank you for answering.

  10. @ Crossbat11

    “Keeping on thread, I happen to think gay marriage is an issue that could backfire on those who broadly support the assimilation of gay people into mainstream life and wish them to be able to live free and open lives without fear and discrimination. That’s most of the population, by the way, but what’s the point of institutionalising a union between two gay people when we already have civil partnerships? All it does is risk antagonising conservative but tolerant people who will start to believe it reveals a growing gay militancy, with an endless agenda, that threatens their largely traditional, but ultimately, benign world.”

    Because separate but equal can never be equal. And because people should not be forced to wear badges of inferiority.

    But I’m really curious about your theory in a backlash among certain groups of people. In terms of antagonizing these conservative but tolerant people you speak of, well what are they going to do exactly? What’s going to happen that will somehow be a negative for LGBT people that will somehow counteract the positive of finally being treated as equal citizens under the law?

  11. ” In terms of antagonizing these conservative but tolerant people you speak of, well what are they going to do exactly?”

    Whinge on UKPR probably.

  12. A serious consequence Nick. Enough to make anyone think twice ;)


    @”my wife of 50 years plus.”

    Many congratulations Howard.

    Two more years for us yet.

  14. @Colin

    I’m inclined to respond -why do you care
    Because I’m interested in politics.

  15. OLD NAT
    Are congratulations on your daughter’s wedding in order? Among the Masai, you’ll be glad to know, bride price has increasingly changed from cattle to cash, reflecting the cost, among other aspects, of girl’s education.

  16. Paul Croft
    While I think if might be presumptious of me to step between protagonists to say their conflict is ill-founded, deserving of the proverbial black eye, this is one of those controversies which seem IMHO to be based on insufficient definition of the subject. The conservative, with a lower capital, view point expressed by TOH and raised as his understanding of a social reality by ON, is that the introduction of gay marriage would, in fact, have an impact on the perception of marriage as a social institution close to the heart of a conservative minority, leading, perhaps, not to a back-lash, but to a distancing from the liberal position of an accepting majority. The reasons which could reasoably be adduced for this, hypothesised, reaction are not just that marriage is traditionally or in the church between a man and a woman, or for the procreation of children, but because a conservative social structure – as against a radically changing one – sees marriage (easily provable,, even in ON nice reference to the hope that the expected numbers to be received at wedding receptions can be expected to fall, by reference to the number of kind of people and their legal and moral relationship to the couple and to the wife and husband and their children separately and with differing interests and obligations. It is, as ON rightly implied, this more or less structured nature of marriage as it stands (outdated, maybe, but so, with every right, are the people would endorse and regret its passing) that constitutes the institution and the risk to it which a given sector of society would wish to defend.

  17. I’m gay but the whole gay marriage debate strikes me as a bit unreal. If gay marriage is passed which major religion is going to perform gay marriages? The CofE? Rome? Islam? Judaism? None of these will perform gay marriages so it’s more symbolic than anything else. The only religions that will perform them are tiny sects like the Quakers.

    The passing of civil partnerships was the real major reform as that is open to everyone and conferred practical benefits for gay couples.

  18. @Welsh Borderer

    I quoted that poll because it was the only one that indicated that many people wouldn’t want another referendum – I realise it was self-selecting and made a note of that in my original post. But there are many other, better polls, indicating strong support for tax-raising powers that go back to before the last referendum. In fact, there might even be more support for tax-raising powers than for law-making powers because A) the issue is easier to explain and B) it would mean giving the Welsh government responsibility and accountability as well as just more power.

    As I understand it all four parties are in favour at least of certain aspects of Silk. Plaid, the Conservatives and the Lib Dems are all pro income tax-raising powers while Labour seem to want borrowing powers and power over minor taxes without the accountability of proper tax-raising powers. If it comes to a vote I don’t think it’ll have any trouble being passed in the Senedd.

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