Focus on the Family Colorado civil unions poll lacks crucial data

Colorado Springs-based Christian-right group Focus on the Family last week submitted to a state Senate committee survey results suggesting that a majority of Coloradans do not support same-sex civil unions. The results of the survey, which was conducted by political marketing firm Advantage Inc, run counter to mounting public-opinion data reported by well-known firms such as Public Policy Polling, Greenberg Quinlan Rosner and American Viewpoint.

The Advantage poll was commissioned by Focus political action arm CitizenLink and was delivered to the Senate Judiciary Committee by a representative of Catholic Charities during a hearing on a civil unions bill sponsored by Denver Democrat Pat Steadman.

During the hearing, Berthoud Republican Senator Kevin Lundberg cited the survey results to bolster his case against the bill.

Advantage found that 46 percent of Coloradans oppose and only 39 percent support civil unions. The survey updates and extends similar findings presented by CitizenLink to lawmakers considering last year’s version of Steadman’s bill. According to the Advantage poll, support for civil unions this year dipped by a percentage point in the state.

The 39 percent support for civil unions reported by Advantage is separated by a whopping 30 percentage points from the views of Coloradans reported a year ago by PPP and Greenberg. Surveys conducted by those two firms over the last two years found that more than 70 percent of Coloradans supported legally recognized domestic partnerships, including those between same-sex couples.

PPP found that 40 percent of Coloradans thought gay couples should be allowed to marry and 32 percent of Coloradans said gay couples should be allowed to form equal-under-the-law civil unions. PPP reported that only 25 percent of Coloradans opposed recognizing gay relationships.

PPP and Greenberg presented the demographic breakdown of the Coloradans they phoned for their surveys and included the lists of the questions they asked and the order in which they asked the questions. That’s the kind of information readers need to know in order to gauge the credibility of poll findings, according to Peter Hanson, professor of political science at the University of Denver.

“If you weigh one group [among your target demographic] too much or miss a hard-to-reach group, it can throw off your findings,” he told the Colorado Independent.

Young people, for instance, are less likely to end up on land-line-based call lists, yet the generational divide on the issue of gay rights is well established.

Hanson also cautioned that a question on civil unions presented in isolation should be viewed skeptically. Context is crucial, he said.

“Questions should not be worded or organized in a way that lead people to a desired answer. For example, if you asked a series of questions about government waste and then a question about taxes, your answer on taxes will be biased because you have primed the respondent to think about waste. You would probably receive a different answer if you asked first about overcrowded classrooms and school programs being cut and then asked about taxes. Alternatively, inflammatory wording in questions can generate biased responses.”

The PPP poll information is available here. The Greenberg poll information is available here.

This year like last year, Advantage submitted only the breakdown of voter registration among the Coloradans it surveyed and the single question on civil unions it asked them. The firm told the Colorado Independent that it does not disclose work done for clients to members of the media.

Public opinion has been a major subject in the debate over civil unions in Colorado.

In 2006, Coloradans voted in favor of Amendment 43, which defined marriage as a relationship between one man and one woman, and they voted against Referendum I, which would have established domestic partnerships in the state. Amendment 43 passed with 56 percent of the vote and Referendum I was defeated with 53 percent of the vote.

Hanson said it seems unlikely that over the last six years support among Colorado voters for legally recognized same-sex unions would be declining in the kind of precipitous manner suggested by the Advantage poll.

“On issues like civil unions, public opinion has been moving steadily in the direction of supporting rights for same-sex couples for many years. My expectation is that opinion on same-sex relationships will shift incrementally over time (as it has for years) and not that there would be sudden, unpredictable swings.”

[Image: Sen. Kevin Lundberg, R-Berthoud, staunch defender of “one-man one-woman” marriage and Republican candidate for Colorado’s third second congressional district.]


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