Articles and Analysis


DiCamillo: Polling on Prop. 8 - California's Same Sex Marriage Ban

Today's Guest Pollster contribution comes from Mark DiCamillo, director of The Field Poll in California.

Having put to rest the so-called Bradley effect in this year's presidential election, we are now seeing numerous references to a so-called "Bradley effect" regarding the California vote on Proposition 8, the same sex marriage ban. The Bradley effect in the California gubernatorial election, even back in 1982 was minimal (at most 2 pts out of the 8 point error in the pre-election polls). It was a convenient theory for people to use when describing the fallibility of the pre-election polls conducted in California in that year, but a closer examination would find most of the polling errors were not due to factors relating to racial bias.

While the notion that social desirability effects could have played a role on a controversial social issue like same-sex marriage, tit s theory without any real evidence, whereas an alternate explanation of the deviation between the pre-election polls and the election outcome is far more compelling and is supported by the data.

First, a quick review of the pre-election polling done by the two leading public opinion polls in California, The Field Poll and the Public Policy Institute of California. They show the following trend:

  • July Field: No = +9
  • August PPIC: No = +14
  • Early Sept Field: No = +14 or +17 (depending on wording)
  • Mid-Sept PPIC: No = +14
  • Mid October PPIC: NO = +8
  • Late October Field: No= +5
  • Election outcome: Yes = +4

These data show the No side ahead by double- digit margins throughout most of the pre-television campaign stages. However, as the TV advertising hit in mid to late September, the Yes campaign ads proved to be more effective, and the polls showing the No side advantage slipping.

The movement continued into and through the final weekend of the election when the churches and various religious groups made a concerted effort to win over the support of their congregations. The evidence shows that they were successful.

When comparing the findings from The Field Poll's final pre-election survey of likely voters (n-966) to the Edison Media Research exit poll in California, the biggest differences relate to the turnout and preferences of frequent church-goers and Catholics. The Field Poll, completed one week before the election, had Catholics voting at about their registered voter population size (24% of the electorate) with voting preferences similar to those of the overall electorate, with 44% on the Yes side. However the network exit poll shows that they accounted for 30% of the CA electorate and had 64% of them voting Yes. Regular churchgoers showed a similar movement toward the Yes side. The pre-election Field Poll showed 72% of these voters voting Yes, while the exit poll showed that 84% of them voted Yes.

The same kind of phenomenon occurred when the first same-sex marriage ban was voted in California in the March 2000 election (Prop. 22), although because of the size of its victory( 61% Yes vs. 39% No) it didn't matter much back then. In that year The Field Poll's final pre-election poll, also completed about one week prior to the election, had 50% of Catholics on the Yes side, and accounting for 24% of the vote. Yet, the network exit poll conducted that year by Voter News Service showed them to account for 26% of the electorate with 62% voting Yes.

My take is that polling on issues like same-sex marriage that have a direct bearing on religious doctrine can be affected in a big way in the final weekend by last minute appeals by the clergy and religious organizations.



There was also a late-October SurveyUSA, No = +3. Crosstabs had 71% of regular churchgoers voting yes, although in the poll they were only 38% of the LV and Actual Voter sample.



Its a shame that the African American community came out to support Obama and ban gay marraige.

It appears that civil rights aren't for anyone but them

70% of california African Americans voted to ban marriage , a position "liberal" Obama supports.



Sorry to disappoint you, but Obama does not support same-sex marriage. He believes that civil unions should be allowed, a position you would probably characterize as in favor of same-sex marriage.


David Mc:

To Both Marks:

One quick question and an observation about the No on 8 campaign.

First, does the Field poll have any pre-election poll question(s) where we differentiate the Prop. 8 voter preferences among RDD respondents and CPO respondents? Is that difference measurable on the post-election, exit polls? I apologize if you have already made this clear in other venues.

Second, the final results on 8 miss an important element of the campaign against 8. The 'No' side had an inconsistent message, inconsistent resources, and inconsistent preferences/differentiation among a large segment of DTS voters as a result. Any comments or observations on this point?

-D Mc., SSU


Mike Farrace:

This vote result was an embarrassment to all Californians who respect our Constitution. Clearly, the television ads -- which pounded the mantra of "gay marriage being taught to 'our' kids in school"as if somehow kids were going to be instructed in how to be in a gay marriage instead of simply being taught tolerance -- were, I thought, beyond the pale.

I read where at least 40% of those TV ads were paid for by the Mormon church of UTAH. I say, if they're going to throw their out-of-state weight behind messing with the Constitutional rights of California citizens, they ought to lose their tax-exempt status.



It's amazing that in this country we can finally recognize the equality of one group of citizens while at the same time we can discriminate against another. Prop. 8 is nothing more than the "separate but equal" doctrine applied to homosexuals. I know several homosexual people, and oddly enough not one of them has threatened the sanctity of my marriage. I guess we'll have to wait for a new version of "Brown v Board of Ed" applied to sexual orientation. Prop. 8 and others like it will be found to be unconstitutional once somebody brave and well-funded enough takes it to the Supreme Court. Progress takes time.



@ Polls_apart

Obama came out AGAINST Prop 8. Whatever his feelings are about gay marriage he opposed writing discrimination into the state's constitution.

The Yes on 8 folks used all sorts of lies and slimy tactics. They distributed fliers to African-American neighborhoods where the flier pictured Barack and Michelle and strongly implied that Obama supported Prop 8 when he clearly said he opposed it. The most vicious lies and fear-mongering...

I guess they've never heard of "do unto others" eh?



@ Eric_G

Ditto to your comment. However I actually think the more appropriate comparison of SCOTUS decisions would be to Loving v Virginia which overturned all interracial marriage bans.

@ GretchenA

Worse, they used robocalls with Obama's statement that he is against same-sex marriage to lie to voters that he supported Prop 8.



Some LGBT leaders point out that Prop 8 won by about 500,000 votes, so it's doubtful that Black voters could have made up the difference.

That may be the case but right now the facts do nothing to assuage the anger many gays feel.

While millions of us answered the call to end divisions to help elect America's first African American President, large majorities of Black voters in CA and Florida were voting for anti-gay marriage referendums.

Matters aren't helped any when some African Americans deride the notion that this is a civil rights issue because we haven't had fire hoses and police dogs turned on us.

No and we weren't slaves either, but gays have suffered massive oppression in other ways. In any event it's not a contest of who was oppressed the most, it's what we must do together to end discrimination against ANYONE.

Until we realize that electing Barack Obama will mean a lot less than we hoped for.



Hey, I'm not saying this will make a difference at this point, BUT SOMEONE NEEDS TO EXPLAIN THIS.

In 2004, over 12,000,000 Californians voted. So far (97% complete, supposedly), only 10,000,000 voted this year. That's a huge dropoff, and there's no way it's right, landslide or not. Turnout in all the other Western states was close to or above 2004. (Not counting Alaska, where something really nasty is going on.)

I'm not saying there's anything crooked - but where did all the votes go?


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