I have continued to wonder about the huge discrepancy between the two polls out on same-sex marriage in California. The LA Times Poll results showed that Californians would vote 51% Yes and 36% No on the proposed amendment to make marriage only between a man and a woman. But the Field Poll showed that Californians would vote 43% Yes and 51% No on the proposed amendment
In my previous analysis of the difference between the two polls, I focused only on the specific question asked about the Marriage Amendment. But I have been thinking about the stories that Mollie at Get Religon had written ( here and here) about how people react to the polling. She linked to Wikipedia and the Spiral of Silence effect. The underlying premise of the theory is that people try to gauge the public opinion on a topic and try to fit in. The spiral occurs as mass media portray public opinion and people adjust their opinions to the norms portrayed. In this theory, people's true opinions are silenced by fear of reprisal or isolation.
If we look at the Field Poll and the LA Times Poll with this understanding of human behavior, we can see why the results were so different. It is the significant difference in the way the Field Poll and the LA Times Poll questions were set up. The Field Poll offered only the stark choice Approve or Disapprove for same-sex marriage. And so it tells us that if Californians are offered that stark choice, what they will say to a stranger over the phone.
But in the LA Times Poll, before Californians were asked the yes or no question about voting on the Marriage Amendment, they were asked this question: "Which of the following statements comes closest to your view? "Same-sex couples should be allowed to legally marry", or "Same-sex couples should be allowed to form civil unions, but not marry" or "Same-sex couples should not be allowed to either marry or form civil unions"
It makes sense that when Californians were reminded of the civil unions as a choice, and had made known that that was their choice to the person conducting the poll, less Californians felt that they had to say they supported the marriage option in the next question about voting on the Marriage Amendment.
In fact, in the previous Field Poll conducted in 2006, the question was asked "Which of the following most closely resembles your own view about state laws regarding the relationships of two people of the same sex ... Gay and lesbian couples should be allowed to legally marry, Gay and lesbian couples should be allowed to form civil unions or domestic partnerships, but not legally marry, or There should be no legal recognition of a a gay or lesbian couple's relationship?"
(Strange how they left that out of the most recent poll.)
So the problem I am seeing now is the other half of the spiral effect. The answers gained through the more intimidating method of the Field Poll are being promoted by the mainstream media and may influence the California voters to be even more intimidated to voice their true opinions.