The Spectacle Blog

Gay Marriage “Bradley Effect”

By on 11.5.09 | 1:29PM

Before Tuesday's vote on marriage in Maine, CQPolitics ran this piece exploring whether the polls were understating popular support for the "people's veto." As it turned out, they were. One of the more interesting findings: the poll (pdf) that showed the most support for marriage redefinition repeal used an automated message, not live interviewers. This raises the possibility of a "Bradley effect" for gay marriage, where people who believe marriage is between a man and a woman are reluctant to share their real views with pollsters.

Like the overall Maine result, this cuts both ways in the same-sex marriage debate. It suggests that overall public opposition to same-sex marriage may be understated in national polls, raising questions of how much the recent shifts reflect rising support or just the public's sense of what the socially acceptable position is. It also raises questions about marriage polling in places like Massachusetts and New York, where some surveys have shown plurality support for same-sex marriage (this has been true in Massaachusetts for years). Gay rights groups have nevertheless been reluctant to see the issue put on the ballot there, perhaps for good reason.

On the other hand, if voicing an opinion that less than a decade ago wasn't terribly controversial -- the idea that marriage is between a man and a woman -- is now something people are afraid to say to strangers, that doesn't bode well for traditional marriage's long-term prospects. It suggests that the bandwagon effect could work, putting opposition to same-sex marriage in the closet or reducing it to the opinion that dare not speak its name.

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