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April 01, 2009

Same-Sex Marriage Surveys are All the Rage

In this week's "Fair Game" we made mention of a phone poll regarding same-sex marriage being conducted by the Vermont Republican Party throughout the state.

The party has polled voters in 16 legislative districts, and plans to conduct several more before tomorrow's House debate and vote on the same-sex marriage bill. There continues to be pressure on House members, as well as the governor, to pass the bill. A rally last week in Montpelier brought more than 300 supporters under the Golden Dome (click here for videos of the rally).

Executive Director Rob Roper said the poll is based "grassroots" response, and they aren't cherry-picking districts. "It's not us dictating which districts should be polled," said Roper. "People are coming to us and asking us to poll in their district."

While not exactly a state referendum on the issue, Roper hopes the poll will offer lawmakers some guidance. 

Here's how it works. Each poll costs $400, so anyone who wants a district polled can write a check to the Vermont GOP and they'll have the poll conducted.  As of yesterday morning, the GOP had polled 9924 people in 16 legislative districts encompassing more than 40 towns throughout Vermont.

The poll asked respondents three questions, as you'll see in the results posted below. Given space constraints in the print edition, I thought I'd post the entire results here.

One analysis, i.e. spin, being offered is when you combine the first and second questions you have a strong majority of Vermonters who either oppose or want to wait on a same-sex marriage law. But, if you exclude the first question — since obviously lawmakers aren't waiting  — you see an even 8-8 split between districts opposed and those in favor.

As you'll see from the results, it does seem ironic that most of the polls (save a couple) are being conducted in swing districts where Democrats have been vulnerable in the past.

None of the polls conducted so far could be considered "scientific", not even the Town Meeting Day poll by the venerable State Sen. William Doyle (R-Washington). In that poll, of 13,000 respondents, 55 percent favor same-sex marriage, with 38 percent opposed and 7 percent not sure. In 2007, voters were split 46-46-8 on the same question. In 1998, 61 percent of Vermonters opposed same-sex marriage, 32 percent were in favor, and 7 percent were not sure.

We'll see if any of these polls have an effect on lawmakers, along with the words of former Gov. Howard Dean who urged fellow Dems Saturday night to "vote your conscience, not your district. Stand up for humanity — put human rights above politics."

Others are beginning to come "out of the closet" so to speak. Alex Aldrich, the head of the Vermont Arts Council, posted to his blog this week encouraging everyone to get informed.

Aldrich writes: "Many of you have already made up your mind one way or the other on gay marriage. This post, however, is directed to those of you who have NOT made up your mind about whether you support or oppose gay marriage." For "fair and balanced" links he directs readers to Take it to the People and Vermont Freedom to Marry Task Force.

He then adds, "Still haven’t made up your mind? Go back and do it again, and yet again if you have to. I truly don’t care what your position ends up being. I just don’t want you or your children, grandchildren, or great-grandchildren to feel any regret that you didn’t take a position and communicate it to your legislators when you had the chance."

"As to where I personally stand on this issue, feel free to draw your own conclusions," he concludes.

Thanks to the GOP poll, we know how some of you feel. Below are the poll results, by district, and the names of legislators who represent each district. My guess is both "sides" on this issue will find something in these numbers worth cheering.

District: Georgia, Fairfax
Reps:  Carolyn Branagan (R), Gary Gilbert (D)

32% — Not now. The legislature should focus on economic issues.
38% — No, the legislature should not pass same sex marriage.
30% — Yes, the legislature should pass same sex marriage now.

District: Hardwick, Stannard, Walden
Rep: Lucy Leriche (D)

33% — Not now. The legislature should focus on economic issues.
31% — No, the legislature should not pass same sex marriage. 
36% — Yes, the legislature should pass same sex marriage now.

District: Braintree, Brookfield, Granville, Randolph
Reps: Patsy French (D), Larry Townsend (D)

29% — Not now. The legislature should focus on economic issues.
35% —No, the legislature should not pass same sex marriage.
36% — Yes, the legislature should pass same sex marriage now.

District: Alburg, Grand Isle, Isle La Motte, Milton, North Hero, South Hero
Reps: Mitzi Johnson (D), Ira Trombley (D)

29% — Not now. The legislature should focus on economic issues.
35% — No, the legislature should not pass same sex marriage.
36% — Yes, the legislature should pass same sex marriage now.

District:Jericho, Bolton, Underhill
Reps: Bill Frank (D), George Till (D)

24% — Not now. The legislature should focus on economic issues.
30% — No, the legislature should not pass same sex marriage.
46% — Yes, the legislature should pass same sex marriage now.

District: Cabot, Danville, Peacham
Rep: Kitty Toll (D)

31% — Not now. The legislature should focus on economic issues.
34% — No, the legislature should not pass same sex marriage.
35% — Yes, the legislature should pass same sex marriage now.

District: St. Johnsbury
Reps: Gerald Reis (R), Bob South (D)

28% — Not now. The legislature should focus on economic issues.
41% — No, the legislature should not pass same sex marriage. 
31% — Yes, the legislature should pass same sex marriage now.

District: Topsham, Groton, Newbury
Rep: Chip Conquest (D
)
28% — Not now. The legislature should focus on economic issues.
44% — No, the legislature should not pass same sex marriage. 
28% — Yes, the legislature should pass same sex marriage now.

District: Addison, Ferrisburgh, Panton, Vergennes, Waltham
Reps: Greg Clark (R), Diane Lanpher (D
)
26% — Not now. The legislature should focus on economic issues.
39% — No, the legislature should not pass same sex marriage. 
35% — Yes, the legislature should pass same sex marriage now.

District: Chelsea, Corinth, Orange, Vershire, Washington, Williamstown
Reps: Sue Davis (D), Phil Winters (R)

33% — Not now. The legislature should focus on economic issues.
42% — No, the legislature should not pass same sex marriage. 
25% — Yes, the legislature should pass same sex marriage now.

District: Rutland City (5-2)
Rep: Peg Andrews (D)

34% — Not now. The legislature should focus on economic issues.
34% — No, the legislature should not pass same sex marriage. 
32% — Yes, the legislature should pass same sex marriage now.

District: Rutland City (5-3)
Rep: Steve Howard (D)

29% — Not now. The legislature should focus on economic issues.
45% — No, the legislature should not pass same sex marriage. 
26% — Yes, the legislature should pass same sex marriage now.

District: Rutland City (5-4)
Rep: Gale Courcelle (D)

32% — Not now. The legislature should focus on economic issues.
38% — No, the legislature should not pass same sex marriage.
30% — Yes, the legislature should pass same sex marriage now.

District: Manchester
Rep: Jeff Wilson (D)

29% — Not now. The legislature should focus on economic issues.
31% — No, the legislature should not pass same sex marriage.
40% — Yes, the legislature should pass same sex marriage now.

District: Mendon, Killington, Chittenden, Bridgewater
Rep: Megan Smith (D)

31% — Not now. The legislature should focus on economic issues.
34% — No, the legislature should not pass same sex marriage.
35% — Yes, the legislature should pass same sex marriage now.

District: Woodstock
Rep: Alison Clarkson (D)

28% — Not now. The legislature should focus on economic issues.
25% — No, the legislature should not pass same sex marriage. 
47% — Yes, the legislature should pass same sex marriage now.

The survey calls I received were from a "robo-caller" using a pre-recorded script which asked the respondent to press a keypad number corresponding to her/his opinion. They provided absolutely no indication of who was conducting or sponsoring the survey, so on principle I chose not to indicate my position.

The results you've posted don't include raw numbers or percentages of non-responders, and would seem relatively meaningless without that context. You noted the Doyle Poll results were based on 13,000 responses; how does this compare with the GOP polls?

Good point on percentage of non-responders - something to look into. As for the raw numbers, 9924 were polled across the 16 districts listed above, as I noted in the post.

At least the Doyle Poll has a reputation for being somewhat non-partisan and representative of public opinion. What do you know about the conduct of the GOP polls? Are voters with unlisted phone numbers or cellular phones being "disenfranchised"? Are people who don't vote being polled? How are multiple voters in a household being handled - is the same number called multiple times, and if so, do some people get to "vote" again because they're the one who always answers the phone - or do they hang up, figuring they've already responded, so only one household voter's opinion ends up getting counted? (Our 2-voter household got 3 or 4 calls, but I don't know if that's due to my unwillingness to provide a response.)

Doing The Math: I count 23 reps in the 16 districts you've listed, which yields an average of about 430 responses per rep. This compares to roughly 2000-3000 votes cast per rep in last November's election (depending on whether or not a seat was contested), so on average the GOP polls seem to have elicited responses from perhaps 15-20% of the total number of people who voted in November. Given the likely lack of adequate statistical randomness in the selection of poll respondents, I suspect the margin of error would be quite large. So instead of pointing out how bogus this whole exercise is, why are you presenting the results in a way that implies some degree of validity? Is it just because the numbers look like they could be plausible?

The continuing problem with reliability of phone polls in this day and age is that they never reach voters with caller ID who dont answer calls from numbers they dont know, like my family, and, they dont reach voters that dont have a land line, like many younger voters. The results of phone polls must be read in this context.

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