That New “52 Percent Oppose Gay Marriage” Number You’re Hearing Is Misleading

Expanding the LGBTQ Conversation
May 19 2014 3:51 PM

Politico’s New Gay Marriage Poll Report Means Little

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A same-sex marriage supporter demonstrates at the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

Photo by Zach Gibson/Getty Images

If you haven’t heard it already, you will soon: A new poll found that 52 percent of people surveyed oppose gay marriage. For those that have been following this particular number on the national level for the past few years, a majority on the opposition side will come as a surprise; most recent polls have shown that as many as 58 percent of Americans favor marriage equality. What changed?

As it happens, nothing. The trouble is that the new poll, published by Politico, draws from such a limited and specific sample size as to be meaningless on the national level. To be fair, the article reveals in the last paragraph that the responses came from “867 likely voters between May 2 and 13, in places with highly competitive midterm contests.” But this is really the headline and not, as printed, “Generational divide of gay marriage, pot.” As David Badash over at the New Civil Rights Movement points out in his critique, “those areas include 16 conservative states—for Senate races—and 68 districts—for House races. That’s 84 separate areas polled, or just over 10 people per area on average.”

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In other words, we’re talking about the opinions of a few people in areas that mostly skew conservative anyway—not very telling. But skimming the report (or worse, just overhearing the headline), it would be easy to miss that crucial caveat and conclude that the poll actually spoke for Americans in general. This is not the case; if actual trends continue, support for marriage equality in the United States will only strengthen over time. 

J. Bryan Lowder is a Slate assistant editor. He writes and edits for Outward, Slate’s LGBTQ section, and for the culture section.