Alex Blaze

Rightwing Poll: Americans Don't Want Gay Lessons

Filed By Alex Blaze | May 06, 2011 1:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Fundie Watch, Marriage Equality, Politics
Tags: poll, school, WorldNetDaily

America's most-trusted birther news source, World Net Daily, along with a birther polling outfit, Wenzel Strategies, have a poll about teaching about homosexuality in schools, which they say shows that 65% of people oppose.

gay-marriage-poll.jpgAssuming that they actually did hire callers to ask 1000 random people about their views on the topic (considering the source, I wouldn't be surprised to find out they just made numbers up), there are still a few issues with this poll. Now, "issues" doesn't mean that the "real number" of people who oppose schools mentioning gay people is a whole lot lower than 65%. In fact, the wording and context of this poll make it hard to even know what it's attempting to measure and how it's supposed to be used, other than to advance a homophobic agenda in the press. I'm perfectly open to the possibility that real polling on this topic wouldn't be all that great.

Back in March, the same polling outfit claimed they proved that only 9% of Americans believed that Barack Obama had proved he was a natural-born citizen. That poll got the firm labeled "ethically challenged" by the founder of ConWebWatch.com. This poll doesn't link to a full transcript, and if the firm took the same liberties with interpreting people's responses in ways respondents never intended - as Salon accused them of with another birther poll back in 2009 - that'd make this poll even junkier.

But based on the information they released, the poll doesn't support WND's claim, which was "Vast Majority Want 'Gay' Lessons Banned."

Here are a few of the issues:

  1. Question wording. Here's the question as WND asked it:

    Do you believe elementary school children should be taught that homosexuality is a normal alternative lifestyle?

    Notice that it's only about elementary schools, even though curriculum that mentions gay people is either for all age levels with a focus on high school or just for upper levels, but never just for elementary school levels.

    Putting the word "homosexuality" is put near "children" makes some parents, even really nice and liberal and gay-friendly parents, run around in circles screaming. The questioner could have said "gay and lesbian," which, while I don't think there's much support for the thesis that it changes people's opinions on LGB people in the military, might have more of an effect on polls about schools.

    That's not even getting into the baggage of "normal alternative lifestyle."

    Bottom line: the question is worded to exploit anxiety around children and sexuality, while hinting that schools will try to turn kids gay. And the poll doesn't even address the headline claim of this poll: "Vast Majority Want 'Gay' Lessons Banned."


  2. Sample not specific enough for policy purposes. The two states that are considering legislation dealing with curriculum in public schools and LGBT people are California and Tennessee, and neither of them is considering a bill to force elementary school students to learn about gay people.

    In California, the bill proposed by the state would let individual school districts decide at what level lessons about LGBT history are included, and even without the bill some school districts have LGBT-inclusive curriculum at the elementary level. To say that the bill is for "elementary school children" to "be taught that homosexuality is a normal alternative lifestyle" is false, although California is mentioned throughout the press release.

    Even if the bill doesn't do what the poll question asks, the poll asks Americans generally instead of just Californians. The US Congress isn't considering a bill about LGBT curriculum in elementary schools, but they polled the whole country anyway. That's just silly - if they wanted useable data about California they should have limited the poll to that state.

    Tennessee, on the other hand, is considering banning all mention of homosexuality, except students who use homophobia to bully other students, especially queer students, which is already banned but rampant. The status quo definitely doesn't go as far as the poll question asked about, so it would probably have more public support.


  3. Question placement. A little trick less-than-honest pollsters use is to place an outlandish question about a similar topic right before the poll question so that respondents have something else in mind when the question that will be publicized is asked. Nate Silver wrote about it earlier this year regarding Rasmussen polls on the Wisconsin strikes, but the issue was known before.

    Wenzel didn't release the poll transcript so the order isn't known, but here's one of the other two questions asked:

    Should students be taught how to perform gay sex acts as part of 'safe sex' lessons in school?

    No, nothing ridiculous and inflammatory about that! If you'll excuse me, I have to put on a rubber suit, drink a bottle of water, and pick up a box of latex gloves before I go perform a safe sex lesson at a local preschool.

    But that's the point. If Wenzel put the questions in that order, then people were asked about students being taught how to perform gay sex acts right before they were asked about whether elementary students should learn about homosexuality. Since we don't have an interview transcript, we don't know the exact order, but I wouldn't put it past them.

There could be other problems with the poll if we had the full transcript and crosstabs, but we don't.

The strange thing is that their general assertion may be right and could be proved with a real poll. Now that marriage is losing its ability to be the knee-jerk, anti-gay wedge issue, what with a majority of Americans supporting it, they're looking for another issue and gay curriculum in schools is better than most. As was shown in Maine during the Question 1 campaign, it's a great way to prevent same-sex marriage, since straight people have a more negative response to their children learning gay people exist than they do to questions about marriage contracts and discrimination in the law. I really wouldn't be surprised if I saw a real polling firm putting out numbers that showed Americans, generally, oppose any lessons about LGBT history in schools.

To me, though, that just proves the need. The fact that people have bizarre ideas about sexual orientation - that it's something that's easily controlled on a whim, that homosexuality leads to death and unhappiness, and that anything outside of their personal experiences is perverted and exotic - means that they're going to oppose education on the topic as much as it means they need education on the topic.

We're not going to find out any time soon. As I've noted before on this site, when it comes to LGBT issues, marriage is what gets polled several times a year while other issues are lucky to get polled once a decade. Sexual orientation antidiscrimination law didn't get a national poll this past Congress even though ENDA was introduced and debated in committee and major Democrats were saying it would at least get through the House. Gender identity antidiscrimination law, as far as I can tell, hasn't been polled nationally since 2002. DADT got a few when that topic heated up, but now that's over. Civil unions don't get polled every year and they're hard to ask about since they're not presented as anyone's first choice when legislatures consider them.

So LGBT curriculum is waiting in the back of a long, slow line. With limited funds in the community to do these types of polls (I would love it if The Bilerico Project could commission polls, but we aren't even being paid minimum wage here), we have to get the attention of mainstream media before we can see data.

img of polls on same-sex marriage from Nate Silver


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JamesSavik | May 6, 2011 1:50 PM

There are lies, damned lies and statistics.

Anyone can bias a survey simply by the way the questions are phrased. Reword them and you'll get a different answer.

Anyone can bias a survey simply by the way the questions are phrased. Reword them and you'll get a different answer.

There is nothing stopping any well-funded pro-LGBT group from doing a similar poll -- and I think it might be a good idea to consider. We could run a scientifically valid survey, or we could counter the wingnuts at their own game.

The main question is: Once it's done and paid for, what mileage will we get out of the results? The answer to that question determines whether it was money well spent, or merely dollars tossed down the toilet.

I think it would be a great idea for an LGBT media outlet (not an advocacy group) to fund a poll that just asks about everything - marriage, civil unions, antidiscrimination law, people's thoughts on gays and trans people, etc. The Advocate has the resources and standing to do it, and they'd get plenty of attention for years since some of these issues don't get polled on all too often.

Yeah, those polls cost quite a bit. I helped facilitate IE's recent poll in Indiana and it cost about $12k if I remember correctly.

Don Sherfick Don Sherfick | May 7, 2011 9:45 AM

Certainly a poll that zeroed in on the "mushy middle" that may have reservations concerning same sex marriage, but thinks that measures like Indiana's HJR-6 go way too far in also barring elected legislators from considering anything "substantially similar" to marriage, would be very helpful.

John Gagon | May 7, 2011 10:20 AM

A great example of: Loaded questions = loaded statistics. Garbage in, garbage out.