The Perils of Polling

It has long been known that the way poll questions are asked has a dramatic effect on the results, but I found these results to be quite interesting and surprising.  According to a CBS News / New York Times Poll:

A new CBS News/ New York Times poll finds that the wording of the question is key when it comes to determining whether Americans support allowing gays to serve in the military.

In the poll, 59 percent say they now support allowing “homosexuals” to serve in the U.S. military, including 34 percent who say they strongly favor that. Ten percent say they somewhat oppose it and 19 percent say they strongly oppose it.

But the numbers differ when the question is changed to whether Americans support “gay men and lesbians” serving in the military. When the question is asked that way, 70 percent of Americans say they support gay men and lesbians serving in the military, including 19 percent who say they somewhat favor it. Seven percent somewhat oppose it, and 12 percent strongly oppose it.

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2 Responses

  1. A.J. Sutter says:

    OTOH, I’m impressed that the favorable proportion is so high even with the “homosexual” phrasing.

  2. Ken says:

    I agree with AJ–we’ve certainly come a long way in recent years.

    And it’s not surprising that choice of words in framing the question influences the answers. AJ is right, of course, to point out that even the more pejorative-sounding terminology was met with a majority of favorable responses. That’s quite an achievement, collectively, in overcoming some pretty strongly ingrained prejudices.

    I think “homosexual” tends to evoke an image of activity in the restroom of a sleazy bar, while “gay men and lesbians” brings to mind brilliant designers and chefs on television, fashion mavens, Hollywood power players, and other fascinating folks.

    “Opinion polling” is frequently a tool to influence opinion, rather then measure it.