Reading the Poll Results
Monday’s round of news stories on the Mason-Dixon poll provide a good example of what The Commonwealth Coalition confronts every day in getting the whole story told of the impact of the Marshall/Newman amendment – the unintended consequences, the intrusion into our private lives and the addition of discriminatory language to our Virginia Bill of Rights.
The stories about the Mason-Dixon poll results largely failed to report that the results are NOT based on the question that will actually be on the ballot on November 7th, but are based on a question that included only on the first sentence of the actual ballot language!
Why does this matter?
Because our polling shows unequivocally that, when voters read the whole text of the amendment, support for it falls well below 50%.
Moreover, a 23% lead shown in a poll we did last summer using only the first sentence deteriorates to a “virtual statistical dead heat” when the poll results are based on the actual question that will be on the ballot in NOvember.
As I said in our press release last Thursday describing our poll results,
“The difference in these results comes simply from voters’ common sense reading of the fine print in this ill-considered proposal,” said Claire Guthrie Gastañaga, Campaign Manager for The Coalition. Gastañaga continued, “Virginians who actually read the whole amendment see that it opens a Pandora’s box of unintended consequences, and they don’t want to do that.”
“Our challenge now is to be sure voters know to read the fine print before they vote,” Gastañaga said. “If they do, we are confident that they will vote NO to this far reaching proposal to write discrimination into Virginia’s bill of rights and intrude the government into our private lives.”
Unfortunately, in reporting on the Mason-Dixon polls, the press made our challenge even more difficult by unfairly and inaccurately reporting the results from their paid pollster, Brad Coker at Mason-Dixon Polling and Research.
Coker then compounded the error by defending his decision to use the misleading question by calling the language left out of the poll question, “superfluous.”
The good news is that some reporters and papers did tell the whole story. The bad news is that too many did not.
Compare this story in the Daily Press and this one in the Roanoke Times, which describe the question asked in the Mason-Dixon poll and include our comments about the polling methodology with these in the Richmond Times Dispatch,Charlottesville Daily Progress,Lynchburg News and Advance.
The Richmond Times Dispatch, and the Charlottesville and Lynchburg papers make no mention of the fact that the poll question was NOT the question that will be on the ballot. The worst case may be the Charlottesville Daily Progress that reprinted the entire ballot question in the story, creating a false impression among readers that this was the question asked in the poll.
In between is the Virginian Pilot which reports the poll question fairly but paraphrases me incorrectly as having said a “small majority” favors the amendment when voters are read all of the text.
And, then there’s the Danville Register Bee that had a story up on its website Monday morning (not online now?) quoting from the press release on our poll and including good language describing the consequences of the amendment, but not addressing the differences in the questions asked on the two polls nor including any of our numbers.
The AP story from late Monday afternoon was very fair.
Today, this hopeful editorial from the Roanoke Times that declares that the marriage amendment can be defeated!
Onward and upward.
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