Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Analysis of Field Poll Showing 59% Support Marriage Equality

The latest Field Poll is out and it has some encouraging news for supporters of marriage equality in California. By a margin of 25 points, 59% to 34%, California registered voters support "same-sex marriage," a jump of 7  points in support from the last Field poll taken in July 2010 which had the margin at a mere 9 points, 51% to 42%. The margin of error of these polls is ±4.5 percentage points.

Although this is very good news that the most respected polling outfit in California is showing support for marriage equality well above the majority position, it should be noted that 1) Field has a history of overstating supporting for the pro-equality side and 2) this is a poll of registered voters, which means it is essentially meaningless in predicting the outcome of a voter initiative on the measure.

First I will elaborate on my first point (Field has overestimated marriage equality support in the past). In 2008, during the fight to defeat Proposition 8 and defend California marriage equality from June 15 to November 4 (173 days) the Field poll issued 3 polls, all of which had the NO side ahead, often by significant margins. On September 19, 2008 Field said Proposition 8 was losing 55% No, 38% Yes among likely voters, On August 29, 2008 the Field Poll said Proposition 8 was losing 54% No to 40% Yes among likely voters and on its first poll on the issue on July 19, 2008 Field said that Proposition 8 was losing 51% No to 42% among likely voters. According to David Flesicher's exhaustive (and definitive) analysis of the campaign published in The Prop 8 Report, the internal polls of the No On 8 campaign NEVER had the No side above 48% of support, although their daily tracking polling did sometimes have the No side slightly ahead of the Yes side when the Undecided number would get larger. Once the "Princes" ad ran on California television for 10 days without a response Proposition 8 was ahead outside the margin of error. Field has never explained why their polling was so off on the Proposition 8 question, which ultimately passed by a margin of Yes 52.3%, No 47.7%.

My second point is to note that this is a poll of registered voters, not likely voters. It is true that it does not make sense to even speak about likely voters at this point, more than 8 months before the general election, but I want to clarify that there is always a difference between polling the set of all possible voters, and the results created when the subset of voters who actually go to the polls (or return their absentee ballots) and vote. However, the fact that we finally have one data point where majority support for marriage equality has been reached OUTSIDE the margin of error, bring us closer to the pre-conditions for when I would support an attempt to place a ballot measure to repeal Proposition 8.

I repeat those conditions here, for completeness:
  1. multiple polls separated in time of weeks or months indicating clear majority support for marriage equality among registered voters;
  2. at least one million dollars in the bank to begin a campaign; and 
  3. a clearly delineated, consensus-driven model of a campaign structure that is responsive to and supported by all (or nearly all) the various segments of the California LGBT  and progressive activist communities.
I would also note that the two putative (and abortive) attempts by Love Honor Cherish to repeal Proposition 8 (in 2009 and in 2011) by ballot measure did not meet ANY of these above three conditions. In fact, only one of these conditions has ever been met (Condition 2), briefly by Equality California. I suspect that by November 2012 Condition 1 will have been met.

Then again, it is not clear that a campaign to repeal Proposition 8 is necessary, thanks to the federal court case of Perry v Brown, which has declared that measure as violative of the United States Constitution and has been struck down by the two courts which have examined it, on August 4, 2010 and on February 7, 2012. Proposition 8 is currently only in effect due to a stay issued by the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals on August 16, 2010 as the heterosexual supremacists who are defending it ask for an 11-member en banc panel of that court to consider their appeal, and after that they can also appeal to the United States Supreme Court.

More comment about the new Field poll. They also ask the question about what kind of legal recognition should same-sex couples have and here the response is that now 51% support marriage equality, with another 29% supporting civil unions (or comprehensive domestic partnerships, which is what California law is right now) and a mere 15% support no legal recognition for same-sex couples (See Table 3, below). Note, this 51% is not a majority position when the margin of error is considered. It's curious what the difference is between the 59% who support "allowing same- sex couples to marry and having regular marriage laws apply to them" and the 51% who think that same-sex couples should be allowed to marry  (when given the option of civil unions and no recognition whatsoever).

This is all great news for supporters of marriage equality and just more evidence that the heterosexual supremacists are fighting a battle that they will lose; it's not a matter of if, it's a matter of when.

An interesting poll would to also ask specifically about a Proposition 8 re-do which Field last asked in March 2009 and the results were 48% Support Repeal, 47% Support Prop 8. But this was before even the California Supreme Court had upheld Prop 8 and two federal courts had struck it down. I wonder what the Proposition 8 re-do poll numbers are now? Inquiring minds want to know.

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