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Star Tribune publishes bogus poll on marriage and other issues

by Eric Ferguson on March 6, 2013 · 3 comments

The Star Tribune’s Minnesota Poll has come out with a poll on marriage equality today that in order to be right, well, let’s say every other poll, and the last election results, need to be wrong. They claim 38% support legalizing same-sex marriage, 53% oppose, and 9% don’t know. This is despite a majority rejecting the marriage ban amendment in the last election, and other polls consistently showing support rising with pluralities or majorities ready to make the law the same for everyone.


The same poll found 70% support background checks on gun purchases even though national polls show support around 90%, and a small majority supports upper income tax increases despite other polls showing much higher support.


The poll was conducted by Mason-Dixon, they same pollster the Star Tribune used for their pre-election polls. That’s the same outfit that said at the end of October that Romney trailed Obama by just three, while other polls had him behind by high single digits. Obama won Minnesota by 8. Mason-Dixon’s record for the rest of the country was, well, similar.


Is this poll denialism from the left, like conservatives engaged in before the presidential election? One small difference. Before the election, conservatives refused to believe the bad news from the consensus of polls, relying instead on “unskewing” or their guts or Romney’s internal pollster with its outlying result.  We, however, are refusing to believe the outlier, and accepting the consensus of polls. That’s easier, granted, when you like the results, but still, one side wants to believe the outlier and one accepts the consensus. So no, not the same.


Let me put it this way: there are several possibilities. Maybe there has been some significant shift on all three issues in a very short time. Granted that’s true with gun issues, since the Sandy Hook massacre has indeed caused a sudden shift, but that’s been in favor of sane gun regulations.


Or maybe Minnesota is significantly more conservative than the national average. If so, then this run of election wins by Democrats running on liberal platforms in a high turnout state gets hard to explain.  OK, I phrased it that way just so the voter fraud believers get a chance to scream at the their computers.


Or maybe Mason-Dixon has a distinct rightward house effect. Given their record, that seems pretty likely.


Someone I mentioned today’s poll to called it bad journalism. It’s not bad journalism, just bad polling, though there is one criticism to be made. The articles didn’t say the poll results contradicted other polls. They had a public figure mention this, Speaker Paul Thissen in the case of the marriage poll, but they didn’t say that the public figure was factually correct. This is that false objectivity that comes from treating each side as if it’s equally likely to be right. Reporting on your poll’s results is just fine, but whether it comes in with similar results as other polls is just a fact, and a relevant one. Especially given their pollster’s record, the Star Tribune needs to say this.


Just like is suggested by that study posted yesterday about how elected officials assume voters are more conservative than they actually are, elected officials who accept these results are in danger of putting themselves to the right of their constituents. That’s fine for Republicans worried about winning the party nomination from a base that skews far right, but that’s a bad risk for Democrats. They risk not just voting out of step with their constituents, but also demotivating their voters and alienating the people who show up at their phonebanks.

Lynnell March 6, 2013 at 8:10 pm

Thanks so much for this post, EricF. I read about the poll in this morning’s Strib and groaned. Then I went looking for the cross tabs and didn’t find them.

This is the kind of poll that makes my beloved DFL tribe chicken out and talk about not going too quickly, respecting the broader public, taking one’s time, etc. etc. Which is all very easy to say if you’re a bunch of straight people who can get married any time you want. I hope they have the courage to do the right thing. My reps are Sen. Scott Dibble and Rep. Frank Hornstein and I know they’re on board with pushing this through this sessiion. The DFL is in charge of both houses precisely BECAUSE of all the people who turned out to vote down the marriage amendment. I hope the DFL figures this out and respects their base.

MinnesotaLiberal March 6, 2013 at 11:33 pm

I agree that Mason-Dixon sucks and that the poll results are suspect but don’t see last November’s rejection of the Marriage Discrimination Amendment as proof. At the time of last year’s recall election in Wisconsin, a majority of voters there had a negative view of dictator-wannabe Scott Walker and yet he survived because enough voters thought Democrats were exploiting some obscure election loophole. I imagine that a similar block of Minnesota voters didn’t necessarily support same-sex marriage but voted against the amendment for other reasons.

ericf March 7, 2013 at 12:58 am

You’re reasonable to ask if voters voted against the amendment for other reasons than wanting marriage to be legal, but we don’t have proof of it. What we do have are polls showing movement is in the direction of greater support. We also know that the argument that “even if it’s right it shouldn’t be in the constitution” was a part of the simultaneous photo ID debate, but wasn’t much part of the marriage debate. The poll could have asked if opponents of the amendment opposed marriage equality but also opposed putting it on the constitution, but they didn’t ask that.

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