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Repealing Michigan's prohibition on Gay Marriage

by: Grebner

Fri Sep 04, 2009 at 02:45:30 AM EDT


I've done a little bit of research on Michigan voter attitude toward the idea of repealling the prohibition of gay marriage, which was added to Michigan's constitution via the petition route in 2004.

The bad news is we're not there yet.  But the good news is that we only have to wait until 12% of the population changes its mind - which may not be so many years. 

Grebner :: Repealing Michigan's prohibition on Gay Marriage

As I've written before, I don't trust the results of ordinary polling to predict the outcomes of referenda votes.  The only method I've found that works consistently is the more expensive approach of persuading a cross-section of voters to fill out dummy ballots, which they cast anonymously.

Recently, my firm (PPC) has conducted such a statewide test for a couple of clients, who were interested in testing some specific issues, which I won't discuss here.  Because I needed to fill the ballot with distracting clutter - in order to simulate a real ballot - I included a simple question whether the 2004 amendment should be repealed.

At first blush, the results weren't good:  117 in favor of repeal, and 218 opposed, or 35%.  That's actually slightly worse than the election result in 2004, when the amendment was opposed by 41% of the voters, so it seems we're losing  ground.

But I don't see matters quite so bleakly.  For one thing, it's always easier to get a "NO" vote - voters who aren't sure tend to figure it's best to leave things the way they are rather than risk change.  That worked to make it slightly harder to adopt the provision in 2004, but now serves to protect it, since it's now part of the status quo.

Second, for various reasons, my "straw ballot" tests seem to over-represent Republican voters - who are strongly anti-gay marriage, per the chart below:

   REPEAL PROHIBITION ON GAY MARRIAGE? 

PARTY   YES    NO   TOTAL
D            69     65     134
I             26     36       62
R            22    117     129
TOTAL.  117    218     335 

Re-weighting these results to reflect the Michigan electorate raises the pro-repeal percentage to 38%.  I don't know exactly how to adjust for the change from needing a "NO" vote in 2004 to needing a "YES" vote now, but I don't find myself feeling these numbers are genuinely bad news.  FiveThirtyEight.com presented an interesting analysis, suggesting that by 2012 Michigan is likely to join the list of states where a majority of the voters wouldn't support a new prohibition of gay marriage.  Since we've already got one, and need to remove it, I guess the horizon is a few years farther out.

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Tactics Available (4.00 / 4)

As far as I know, there are only four ways of getting rid of that ban (with varying levels of practicality):

  1. A petition drive puts an amendment on the ballot, which is approved by voters
  2. The legislature puts an amendment on the ballot, which is approved by voters
  3. A new constitution without a ban is drafted at a convention and approved by voters
  4. Our state constitution is found to be in conflict with the federal constitution

That last path is rather unlikely. Thus, it looks like one way or another it has to go before the voters



Re: #2 (0.00 / 0)
I wonder how many layers of dust Pam Byrnes's bill has collected by now? Good on her for introducing it, but at this point it's pretty clear that it was merely a cheap political ploy (not that I was naïve enough to think otherwise).

[ Parent ]
#3 (4.00 / 1)
I have no faith in #3.  In fact, I not only have no faith in #3 being a result from a con-con, I have no faith that a con-con will produce a significantly better constitution.  I have every bit of faith that the thing would be driven by the usual array of special interests, who'd deliberately keep the same sex marriage ban intact to whip up support for the overall document from the rubes who know very little about government, but a great deal about their own prejudices about gay people getting hitched.

Among the Trees

[ Parent ]
There seems to be almost a consensus (4.00 / 1)
from left and right that a con-con has much larger downside risks than upside benefits. Special interests would parachute into Michigan after November, spending money (after the parties and PACs are depleted by the fall election) to elect their people in the spring primary and general elections for delegates, who would then come up with provisions friendly to those interests, and enough feel-good stuff for the voters (cut the legislators' salaries!) to ensure passage. I share this view.

[ Parent ]
Or (0.00 / 0)
it will be loaded up with all the term limited legislators who will have name recognition and perhaps a war chest on which to run...

[ Parent ]
Or 12% (4.00 / 1)
dies of old age...same difference.

Standard Error? (0.00 / 0)
Out of curiosity, what was your estimate for the standard error? I did a quick calculation and came up with about 5% by weighting the three groups equally, so there is no evidence of any significant shift (in either direction) from 2004 based on this sample.

Standard Error for "Straw Ballot" polling (0.00 / 0)
As I've previously written, I don't believe in the use of ordinary polling to predict the outcome of ballot questions.  Polls that calculate a confidence interval of, say, +/- 5% often miss their mark by 35%.

My method isn't perfect, and part of its imperfection is that the sample isn't truly random. The work is done door-to-door, and the places we choose are randomly selected, but only after excluding various "unsuitable" areas.  (Entirely rural, apartments, and so on.)

Further, I think there's a bias in who actually returns the ballots - we seem to get very poor response rate from low-income people, and I wonder whether we don't have oher bias by age, gender, marital status, and so on.

The long and short of it is that I've never missed an actual election result by more than 8%, which is somewhat worse than a simple-minded application of sampling theory would suggest.

In the present case, if we pretend I had a genuine random sample of size 335, the SE should be 2.7%, so a 95% confidence interval would be +/- 5.5%.  But it you were betting on the result of a upcoming election, it would be foolish to trust those numbers.  Your guess, which suggests a confidence interval of +/- 10%, seems perfectly plausible to me.

My two favorite illustrations:  In 2002, there was a referendum on abolishing straight-ticket voting on the November ballot.  (The Republicans in the legislature adopted it, and the MDP gathered the signatures to refer the question to the ballot.)  EPIC-MRA conducted a poll showing the proposal winning 77%-to-21%, five days before the election.  My crude measurements (I hadn't worked all the details out) showed the proposal would lose, but I had no idea what the margin would be.  Final result: defeat by a 60% to 40% margin.  EPIC-MRA's poll had a confidence interval of +/- 5%, so this was about 14 times their SE - I guess it was a one-in-a-lifetime-of-the-universe event.  (One in 10-to-the-45th power, roughly.)

The second was the 2006 amendment to the state constitution increasing the restrictions on the use of eminent domain.  The Detroit Free Press published a Selzer  poll six days before the election showing the proposal with around 44%. My method showed it getting 87% YES - which I publicly announced.  the final result was 80% YES, which showed that my technique can't be trusted completely - the error was larger than simple statistical theory allowed.  At the same time, the Free Press response was exactly what Dawson Bell promised it would be: they stuck with their prediction up to the closing of the polls, and then they pretended they hadn't made it.

So the answer to your quetion, of the size of the standard error:  "Dunno.  but I bet I'm within five or ten points."


[ Parent ]
Sorry, Should Have Said 1.96*SE was 5%, But Thanks for the Explanation (n/t) (0.00 / 0)


[ Parent ]
I'm guilty of thinking of statistics from an entirely practical point of view. (0.00 / 0)
The reason I don't bother improving my sampling methods for "straw ballot" research is that the stochastic noise is overwhelmed by other sources of error.  It's a whole lot more productive to try to figure out and deal with the factors that cause ordinary polls to miss by 30% than it is to worry about whether 1% of my error might not related to the fact I can't figure out how to sample the Upper Peninsula, for example.

It's interesting to think of the improvement in accuracy from increasing sample size.  Once I collect 300 ballots, there's very little benefit in getting any more, unless I'm interested in cross-tabs.  For the overall result, collecting more (at a cost of about $20 each) simply doesn't get me a better estimate.

To apply the same analysis to the MRA and Selzer polls I made fun of previously, they might as well have set their sample size to 25 - if you have a bias of 30%, you'll get just as good a result from 20 interviews as 2000.  Even if you have to perform a useless procedure, there's no benefit from spending the money needed to perfect its uselessness.


[ Parent ]

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