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Proposition 8: A Closer Look At Those Poll Numbers

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October 23, 2008

Gregory M. Herek, Ph.D., is a professor of psychology at the University of California, Davis, where he teaches courses on survey methodology and conducts research on sexual prejudice. The opinions expressed at his website, Beyond Homophobia, are his own, and do not represent the views or policies of the University of California.

Ever since California county clerks began issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples last June, Proposition 8 — the proposed constitutional amendment to eliminate marriage equality — has appeared likely to lose at the ballot box.

Throughout the summer, statewide surveys from the Field Poll and the Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC) found that the measure lacked majority support. In fact, it was consistently opposed by more than 50 percent of likely voters.

But earlier this month, a new poll, sponsored by several CBS local affiliates and conducted by SurveyUSA, showed likely voters favoring passage of Prop. 8 by a margin of 47 percent to 42 percent. A follow-up SurveyUSA poll last week indicated the race was a statistical dead heat.

Today a new PPIC poll estimates that Prop. 8 is losing, 52 percent to 44 percent.

These conflicting findings have many supporters of marriage equality scratching their heads in confusion.

In my October 21 blog entry at Beyond Homophobia, I compare the methodologies of the SurveyUSA, Field, and PPIC polls. My conclusion is that the SurveyUSA polls may well be correctly stating the number of likely voters who support Prop. 8, but are undercounting those who oppose it. The statewide polls conducted by Field and the PPIC — both of which show Prop. 8 losing — are probably more accurate snapshots of statewide opinion.

Nevertheless, marriage equality supporters can’t afford to be complacent. The PPIC poll released this week indicates the race has tightened. This trend is likely to continue between now and November 4, and the outcome will ultimately depend on voter turnout. So it’s important to continue to donate to the No On 8 campaign, to speak out against the measure, and to make sure that your family and friends vote.

You can read the entire analysis here.

Want to learn more about how to fight for relationship recognition for same-sex couples? Visit the ACLU LGBT Project’s online toolkit, Get Busy, Get Equal!

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