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

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.”


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.



Meet the New Bosses

How the Republicans would run the Senate.

The Government Is Giving Millions of Dollars in Electric-Car Subsidies to the Wrong Drivers

Scotland Is Just the Beginning. Expect More Political Earthquakes in Europe.

Cheez-Its. Ritz. Triscuits.

Why all cracker names sound alike.

Friends Was the Last Purely Pleasurable Sitcom

The Eye

This Whimsical Driverless Car Imagines Transportation in 2059

Medical Examiner

Did America Get Fat by Drinking Diet Soda?  

A high-profile study points the finger at artificial sweeteners.

The Afghan Town With a Legitimately Good Tourism Pitch

A Futurama Writer on How the Vietnam War Shaped the Series

  News & Politics
Sept. 21 2014 11:34 PM People’s Climate March in Photos Hundreds of thousands of marchers took to the streets of NYC in the largest climate rally in history.
Business Insider
Sept. 22 2014 9:39 AM Adrian Peterson Has a Terrible Contract, and Cutting Him Would Save the Vikings a Lot of Money
The Eye
Sept. 22 2014 9:12 AM What Is This Singaporean Road Sign Trying to Tell Us?
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 19 2014 4:58 PM Steubenville Gets the Lifetime Treatment (And a Cheerleader Erupts Into Flames)
  Slate Plus
Sept. 22 2014 8:08 AM Slate Voice: “Why Is So Much Honey Clover Honey?” Mike Vuolo shares the story of your honey.
Sept. 21 2014 9:00 PM Attractive People Being Funny While Doing Amusing and Sometimes Romantic Things Don’t dismiss it. Friends was a truly great show.
Future Tense
Sept. 22 2014 7:47 AM Predicting the Future for the U.S. Government The strange but satisfying work of creating the National Intelligence Council’s Global Trends report.
  Health & Science
Bad Astronomy
Sept. 22 2014 5:30 AM MAVEN Arrives at Mars
Sports Nut
Sept. 18 2014 11:42 AM Grandmaster Clash One of the most amazing feats in chess history just happened, and no one noticed.