Results of two polls recently published by the Washington Post suggesting that Americans are increasingly in favor of same-sex marriage and opposed to the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) have come under criticism from the Pennsylvania Pastors' Network, which contends that the results "are likely skewed" in favor of the gay rights advocacy groups that commissioned them.
One of the polls, conducted for the Respect for Marriage Coalition, found that 75 percent of voters believe that same-sex marriage is a constitutional right. A breakdown of that number shows that 91 percent of Democrats, 75 percent of Independents and 56 percent of Republicans support this view. Regardless of their personal views on same-sex marriage, the poll also noted that 83 percent of Americans feel same-sex marriage would be legal nationally within five to ten years. Section 3 of DOMA, which the Obama administration recently urged the Supreme Court to strike down, defines marriage as between one man and one woman.
A national survey conducted for the Center for American Progress (CAP) and Gay & Lesbian Advocates and Defenders (GLAD) said 59 percent of registered voters were against DOMA's Section 3. It also noted that opposition to DOMA's Section 3 was higher among African-Americans, 65 percent, and Hispanics, 61 percent, than it was for whites, 57 percent, according to the Washington Post. The poll also noted that a majority of voters felt DOMA discriminated against same-sex couples.
Describing all the organizations that commissioned the polls as homosexual advocacy groups, Sam Rohrer, president of the Pennsylvania Pastors' Network, said in a statement Monday that, "the research cited is likely biased against DOMA based on the sponsors." He also said creating policy around skewed research is "both deceptive and damaging to America.
He added that "the Court is obligated to make determinations that [are] morally and constitutionally faithful, not on polls or public opinion."
In response to the polls, political scientist at the University of Akron John C. Green told The Christian Post: "Polls that are produced by advocacy organizations are often viewed with skepticism especially by persons with opposing viewpoints. It is also rare for an advocacy group to do a poll that disagrees with their viewpoint."
Green, who is also senior research advisor at the Pew Research Center's Forum on Religion & Public Life, noted, however, that it is not always the case that polls done by advocacy organization are bad. To draw a more reliable conclusion about the value of a poll, it is important to look at the internal details of the poll, such as the questions that were asked of individuals.
Green noted, for example, that there is something called the "social desirability effect" that can influence the outcome of polling depending on the words used in the questions. For example, he explained, a pollster's use of the word "discrimination" in a question is more likely to elicit a socially acceptable response from people to questions that they might not even seriously think about because most people tend to see discrimination in a bad light and are conditioned to respond in a way that is socially acceptable. It is usually how the question is framed in polls that causes controversies with polls, explained Green, not the polls by themselves.
"More people might say they are against it because of their reaction to the word (discrimination). If questions are asked a different way you might get different results," said Green.
Even so, said Green: "policymakers tend to gather a lot of information when they make policy. Public opinion polls are important but they aren't the only source of information used to inform policy decisions."
According to the release for the CAP & GLAD poll, the main questions, among others, asked were put in a straight forward manner: "Do you favor or oppose allowing same-sex couples to legally marry?" and "One part [of DOMA] says even when a same-sex couple is legally married under state law, the federal government has to treat them as unmarried and cannot grant them the federal benefits and protections of marriage. Do you favor or oppose this part of DOMA?"
Meanwhile, the Respect for Marriage Coalition in its release did not include the questions asked to be analyzed.
Research from the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life shows that in 2001, 57 percent of Americans opposed same-sex marriage while 35 percent supported it. By 2012, 48 percent said they supported same-sex marriage while 43 percent opposed.
According to the Pew data, however, a significant majority of white and black evangelical Protestants and most Republicans (75 percent) oppose same-sex marriage.
Last Friday, the Obama administration filed a brief urging the Supreme Court to strike down Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act, which keeps the federal government from recognizing same-sex couples legally married in states and called the law unconstitutional.