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Controversial sociologist claims polls showing majority support for marriage equality are biased

Marriage equality

UT Austin
UT Austin

You may remember University of Texas at Austin professor Mark Regnerus for his study claiming that same-sex couples are less fit to parent than different-sex couples.  In March, before the Supreme Court’s oral arguments in the DOMA and Prop 8 cases, we reported on a Huffington Post/American Independent investigation that found that the study had been commissioned by right-wing groups and timed specifically to sway the high court.

Regnerus is back, with a piece in yesterday’s National Review Online casting doubt on news media polls that find majority support for marriage equality.  In particular, Regnerus cites a recent Rice University study which concluded that there had been no significant change in support for equal marriage rights between 2006 and 2012, based upon interviews during both years conducted with a sample of adult Americans.

For Regnerus, the Rice researchers’ findings are the result of “the psychology of giving positive versus negative responses to surveys.”  “The Rice survey,” he writes in National Review Online, is unique in that the positive response is one of support for traditional marriage rather than for same-sex marriage.”

Regnerus then takes on the Gallup poll, which found last month that 54 percent of Americans believe same-sex couples should be provided equal marriage rights while 43 percent oppose marriage equality.  “The results may be skewed,” Regnerus writes, “by the fact that the negative response is the one favoring traditional marriage.”

The sociologist’s main complaint, though, is with Gallup’s practice of ‘priming’: the organization asks respondents a question about whether “gay or lesbian relations between consenting adults should or should not be legal” before asking the question about equal marriage rights.  But as Carlos Maza of Equality Matters pointed out yesterday in a blog post, several polls have found Gallup-like levels of support for marriage equality without priming questions.  (In particular, Maza cites CBS NewsBloombergNBC News, and CNN polls.)

Maza also criticizes two of Regnerus’s other arguments.  First, he writes that Regnerus’s citation of the so-called ‘Bradley Effect‘ as the cause of polling data that finds higher levels of support for marriage equality ballot measures than the eventual vote count is flawed, considering that no similar disparity was seen in the four marriage initiatives in November 2012.

Second, Maza discredits Regnerus’s umbrage with polling questions using language like ‘rights,’ ‘freedom’ and ‘benefits’ as opposed to negative terms like ‘ban’:

This is a common conservative criticism of anti-gay groups, which would prefer that polls ask questions about the general definition of marriage rather than the legality of same-sex marriages. These types of polls dotend to find higher levels of opposition to marriage equality, but only because they avoid the central question of the debate over same-sex marriage: whether same-sex couples should be legally allowed to enter into a government-sanctioned marriage contract and enjoy the rights and benefits provided by that contract.

In his blog post, Maza quotes Darren Sherkat, who conducted the internal review of Regnerus’s controversial journal article, as saying the UT Austin researcher “has been disgraced.”  Still, Regnerus still has considerable sway in the anti-marriage equality world (as evinced by his access to a prominent outlet such as National Review Online).  It will be interesting to see what he comes out with next.

1 Comment

  • 1. Seriously?&hellip  |  August 23, 2013 at 6:58 am

    […] Texas professor Mark Regenerus, known for totally cooking the books on anti-gay study, is now accusing polling firms are doing the same on marriage equality polling. Equality on Trial reports: […]

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