Is this the most biased opinion poll question ever asked?

by Stephen Tall on February 28, 2012

The Coalition for Marriage was launched last week. And as many groups do to try and drum up some publicity announce themselves to the world, they commissioned an opinion poll of public attitudes to equal marriage.

Which is fair enough. But then, it appears, a thought struck them. The UK is, by and large, a tolerant nation, with the vast majority now accepting of gay and lesbian relationships being respected and recognised. So… how to pose an opinion poll question that could produce the result they wanted?

Thankfully, ComRes (a member of the British Polling Council) did them proud. You can read it here.

It is a brief masterclass in asking the right questions to produce the results you want.

First, the neutral question that comforts the respondent that the views they hold are eminently reasonable: ‘Please tell me the extent to which you agree or disagree with [this] statement about the definition of marriage… It is possible to be tolerant of the rights of others and protective of traditional marriage at the same time.’ Unsurprisingly, 86% of the public agrees with this beguilingly innocuous true-ism.

And so are we lined up for the clincher, the killer question, so loaded with intrinsic bias it is almost admirably breathtaking in its audacity:

‘Please tell me the extent to which you agree or disagree with [this] statement about the definition of marriage… Since gay and lesbian couples already have the same rights as married couples available to them under civil partnership, they should not be allowed to redefine marriage for everyone else.’

It’s a question which would have been only marginally less subtle if paraphrased as ‘Don’t you think those gays are getting a bit above themselves, eh?’

Given the brazen slant of the question, I was actually quite surprised to see that only 51% agreed with the statement, with 34% disagreeing.

I think the wording of this poll question tells us everything we need to know about the credibility of the Coalition for Marriage — and, perhaps more importantly, everything we need to know about the confidence they have in their own case that they should pray in aid such dubious tactics.

As Lib Dem equalities minister Lynne Featherstone noted here:

Marriage is a right of passage for couples who want to show they are in a committed relationship, for people who want to show they have found love and wish to remain together until death do them part. Why should we deny it to people who happen to be gay or lesbian who wish to show that commitment and share it with their family, friends and everybody else? We should be proud of couples who love each other and a society that recognises their love as equal.

* Stephen Tall is Co-Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice, and also writes at his own site, The Collected Stephen Tall.