Saturday, November 28, 2009

Does NJ Support or Oppose Gay Marriage?

Depends on how and who you ask - doesn't it always? Quinnipiac is out with a new poll showing NJ voters opposing same-sex marriage 49%-46%, with only 5% undecided. This compares to our poll, taken two weeks before, showing NJ adults supporting gay marriage 46% - 42% with 12% undecided.

So which is it? Well, the "support" numbers are not all that much different - both of us have "support" at 46 percent - even though we asked the question differently. We asked:

"Some people say gay marriage should be legal in New Jersey. Others oppose legalizing gay marriage. What is your position? Do you support gay marriage or oppose gay marriage?"

They asked:

"Would you support or oppose a law that would allow same-sex couples to get married?"

Notice we ask about "gay marriage" and Quinnipiac asks about "same-sex couples" getting married. Small difference, perhaps, but even small wording differences can matter.

But what's really different about our results is that Quinnipiac has 49 percent opposed and we only have 42 percent. AND they have only 6 percent don't know while we have 12 percent. The result is different interpretations of our two polls.

I'm guessing that we provided context in our question, in that we pointed out that "some people" support and some oppose gay marriage. By doing this we might have caused respondents to think a little more deeply about the question, perhaps to bring to mind both sides. This could lead to more "don't knows" rather than a gut "support" or "oppose" reaction, which is more likely to happen with the very simple Quinnipiac question.

One other point about the question - we reported "New Jersey adults" and Quinnipiac reported "New Jersey voters". Obviously voters are a subset of adults, and are the ones politicians care the most about (Sorry non-voters, politicians are not that into you!)

But we also have a voters sub sample, and when we look only at voters our results essentially do not change - we still have a 4 point plurality in favor of gay marriage.

So are New Jerseyans for or against gay marriage? The answer really is that they are pretty evenly split. But I would argue that opinion on this issue is not the key point. What really matters is the intensity of opinion. We asked how important the issue is to New Jerseyans and, surprisingly to me we found first that it is not very important to most New Jersey residents, and second, it is MORE important to supporters than to opponents. So while opinion is split, we find that a majority of residents say that if the legislature legalizes gay marriage, New Jerseyans should accept the decision.

But this appears to be moot, since so far the Democrats controlling the legislature do not seem likely to bring the issue to an up or down vote in this lame duck session, killing gay marriage for at least the four years of the upcoming Christie administration, no matter what New Jerseyans may say they want.

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