Campaigns on Same-Sex Marriage Ballot Measures Fail to Move Voters


Campaigns on ballot measures pertaining to the legal status of same-sex couples, including gay marriage, have minimal impact on voters, a study conducted by NYU's Patrick Egan has found.

Campaigns on Same-Sex Marriage Ballot Measures Fail to Move Voters
Campaigns on ballot measures pertaining to the legal status of same-sex couples, including gay marriage, have minimal impact on voters, a study conducted by NYU’s Patrick Egan has found. ©iStockphoto.com/ParkerDeen.

Campaigns on ballot measures pertaining to the legal status of same-sex couples, including gay marriage, have minimal impact on voters, a study conducted by New York University’s Patrick Egan has found.

The report, Findings from a Decade of Polling on Ballot Measures Regarding the Legal Status of Same-Sex Couples, is based on the most comprehensive compilation to date of the pre-election polls available in the states holding votes on same-sex marriage and domestic partnership since 1988—a total of 167 surveys on 32 ballot measures.

The report may be found here.

The report also found that pre-election polls were consistently unreliable because they underestimated voter support for bans on the legal recognition of same-sex couples. In addition, the report saw no evidence backing the theories that voters misrepresented their support for bans to pollsters, or that they were confused about the meaning of a “yes” or “no” vote.

However, the most notable finding was that those favoring and opposing the ballot measures ­have largely fought to a draw, meaning that the share of the public saying they intended to vote for or against these measures typically changed very little over the course of the campaigns. 

“Most political scientists think that election campaigns do little, in the end, to move many voters one way or another,” said Egan. “This report indicates that ballot measures on same-sex marriage are no exception: neither advocates nor opponents tended to gain support in any consistent fashion in these campaigns, despite the millions of dollars spent by both sides over the past decade.”

Egan, an assistant professor in NYU’s Wilf Family Department of Politics, specializes in public opinion, public policy, and their relationship in the context of American politics. He is co-editor of Public Opinion and Constitutional Controversy, which was published by Oxford University Press in 2008. Egan served as an assistant deputy mayor of policy and planning for the City of Philadelphia under former Mayor Edward Rendell. 

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