Christian group delivered suspect civil unions poll data to GOP Judiciary Committee members

Reporting the story of recently defeated Colorado civil unions bill SB 172, National Catholic Register reporter Steve Weatherbe Monday called a poll showing popular support for civil unions in the state “specious.” But Weatherbe got the facts wrong on pro-civil unions polling in Colorado and he leans instead on an alleged “recent poll” conducted for Christian politics group Colorado Family Action by a company called Advantage Inc, which the Washington Post reportedly describes as a “Republican fundraising and marketing firm.” Colorado Family Action says it shared its polling results with Republican members of the state House Judicial Committee who voted to kill the bill at the end of March.

Neither Weatherbe nor Colorado Family Action– a Focus on the Family group– provide any links to the poll data or its methodology. Advantage Inc told the Colorado Independent it does not disclose work done for clients to members of the media.

As the Independent reported in February, North Carolina-based Public Policy Polling, a top national survey firm, found that 72 percent of Coloradans favor establishing civil-union domestic-partnership rights for gay residents of the state.

Weatherbe wrote that the PPP poll was commissioned by gay rights group OneColorado. But the PPP poll was not commissioned by OneColorado.

The data PPP gathered on gay marriage and civil unions came as part of a larger poll done by PPP for PPP to take the pulse of swing-state Colorado right-left politics.

In addition to questions about the popularity of President Obama and Sarah Palin and health care reform, for example, pollster Tom Jensen asked for opinions on gay marriage and found that 40 percent of Coloradans thought gay couples should be allowed to marry and 32 percent said they should be allowed to form equal-under-the-law civil unions. Only 25 percent opposed recognizing gay relationships.

From the poll (available here as a pdf):

Q8 Which of the following best describes your opinion on gay marriage: gay couples should be allowed to legally marry, or gay couples should be allowed to form civil unions but not legally marry, or there should be no legal recognition of a gay couple’s relationship?

Gay couples should be allowed to legally marry……40%
Gay couples should be allowed to form civil unions but not legally marry……32%
There should be no legal recognition of a gay couple’s relationship……25%
Not sure ……3%

Those PPP findings matched with a survey conducted the previous year by Greenberg Quinlan Rosner and American Viewpoint and that was commissioned by OneColorado. That poll found that 75 percent of Coloradans supported legally recognized same-sex domestic partnerships and that only 19 percent of Coloradans opposed them.

Find the Greenberg survey at the attached pdf.

Weatherbe implied that the Advantage poll commissioned by Colorado Family Action is more credible than the PPP poll because its sample size was double that surveyed by PPP.

PPP surveyed 517 Colorado voters from February 4 to February 6, 2011. Greenberg Rosner surveyed 1006 Coloradans in January 2010. Taken together, that’s a substantial sample of Coloradans who answered the same way two years running. Again, Weatherbe, Advantage Inc and Colorado Family Action have so far not made available any details about the Advantage survey, including the dates when it was conducted, the sample size it covered and the questions it asked respondents.

Weatherbe, who lists that he contributes to the National Catholic Register from British Columbia, wrote that “Public Policy Polling results were also suspect” because “in 2006 a majority of Coloradans supported an initiative amending the state constitution to prohibit same-sex marriage and defeated a referendum that would have recognized civil unions,” a fact he says was “never seriously [addressed] in media reports.”

Yet that topic–the votes on Amendment 43 and on Referendum I– was consistently addressed by Colorado media in general and by the Colorado Independent in particular. It was a talking point repeated by Republicans opposing the bill throughout the debate and it was reported in that context at all the major outlets covering the story.

Colorado media also reported that poll after poll has demonstrated that U.S. public opinion on gay marriage and gay rights is speeding in one direction: toward full equality. In this matter, 2006 is a long way away, and that was one of the ways the media here reported on the 2006 popular votes on Ref I and Amendment 43.

More specifically, the Independent reported on several occasions that voting statistics geek Nate Silver of FiveThirtyEight.com had set up a model in 2009 based on trends in 30 states to predict when voters might likely overturn gay marriage bans. According to his analysis, opponents of the gay marriage ban passed in 2006 would stand a very strong chance of repealing it in the 2012 election cycle. It stands to reason that civil unions, a less controversial topic than gay marriage, would have passed this year had it been up to voters.

Jessica Haverkate, executive director of Colorado Family Action, told Weatherbe she didn’t trust polling that showed a majority of Coloradans supporting civil unions.

Weatherbe:

[W]hen Colorado Family Action heard about [the PPP poll], they commissioned their own poll [from Advantage Inc]. With a sample twice that of Public Policy Polling’s, it showed 46 percent opposed and 41 percent in favor of civil unions. “We expected they would use their poll against the members of the judicial committee, some of whom we let know our own results,” [said Haverkate].

Did the members of the House Judiciary Committee who reportedly were weighing the Colorado Family Action poll get to examine its methodology? Did they share that data with the Democratic members of the committee or with any members of the media?

They did not share it with the Colorado Independent and they never brought it up at the hearing when they voted as a bloc to kill the bill despite issuing repeat assurances they would give the bill a “fair hearing.”

[Image: House civil unions bill sponsor Rep. Mark Ferrandino at the Judiciary Committee hearing (Luning). ]

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