Friday, September 28, 2012

And statistics

Yesterday evening, I saw a Tweet from a rightwing religious group helping to lead opposition to marriage equality in New Zealand. They were gloating that, as they claimed, “Support for Gay Marriage Drops In Latest Poll”. Except, that was all just spin and wishful thinking.

In July 2011, Research New Zealand released a poll that found that 62% supported marriage equality in New Zealand, 34% opposed it, 2% said there was “little or no difference between civil unions and marriage” and 2% said they didn’t know.

In the new poll, released last Friday, 49% support marriage equality, 32% oppose it, 15% said they “did not mind one way or the other” and “Don’t Know” was 3%.

Here’s what you need to know about this new poll: Nothing’s actually changed.

In 2011, they didn’t offer people the choice (or didn’t report the answer) of not minding either way, so we can’t make any realistic comparison between support in 2011 and 2012. However, since opposition dropped slightly in 2012, we can infer* that many of the people listed as supporting marriage equality in 2011 haven’t become more opposed to it; instead, it's clear that they’re definitely NOT opposed, but truly don’t care.

What the 2012 poll probably actually shows is the true level of firm support and firm opposition, with a sizeable chunk—that 15%—simply genuinely not caring either way. We can say that because if those people were moving toward opposition (as that same rightwing group seemed to be implying in a Tweet to me this morning), then they most likely would have gone to “don’t know”. Also, actual opposition dropped, with soft opposition moving to “don’t know” or the new don’t care either way position. If the rightwing group was correct, we should have seen opposition grow, not reduce.

The fact is, this new category is a very Kiwi attitude: Many New Zealanders just don’t get worked up about things that don’t affect them. In such situations, Kiwis may shrug their shoulders and say they “don’t mind one way or the other.” They’re far too busy with their lives to get drawn into heated battles that don’t affect them personally.

So, what the poll shows is that outright opposition is down slightly, but, more importantly, those who support it or don’t care—remember, that 15% doesn’t oppose it—is actually higher than it was last year and outnumbers actual opponents by a 2 to 1 margin.

That rightwing religious group was being deceptive and disingenuous by seizing only on the one number—those who said they support marriage equality—in isolation from all the other numbers. The poll, taken in its entirety, actually shows that attitudes are pretty much the same as they were a year ago.

However, don’t take my word for all this: As I often say, go the original source material and judge for yourself. You don’t have to let anyone (including me or that rightwing group) filter information for you. Here are original sources:

Download the PDF of the 2011 Research NZ Survey “Same Sex Marriages”

Download the PDF of the 2012 Research NZ Survey “Same Sex Marriages, Civil Union and Adoption”

Also, Radio New Zealand’s Afternoon programme with Jim Mora discussed the survey on Part 2 of their “The Panel” segment on Monday, September 24. The panel featured Mora, Karl du Fresne and Barry Corbett, who were joined by Emanuel Kalafatelis, Director of Research New Zealand. The topic starts about 17 minutes in (though the topic before it is related).

This post is a revised and expanded version of what I originally published.

Update 29 September: In May 2012—10 months after the first Research New Zealand Poll, and four months before the current one—a ONE News Colmar Brunton Poll was conducted and found that 63% of New Zealanders back marriage equality and only 31% opposed it [Download the PDF]. The poll also had a much larger sample size than the RNZ polls, and has a smaller margin of error. This poll further reinforces my contention that support for marriage equality in New Zealand has remained stable, despite claims to the contrary. The chart is from Marriage Equality NZ [click to embiggen] and shows some of the results of the ONE News Colmar Brunton Poll.

*Update 2: In further Twitter exchanges, the rightwing religious group took exception to my use of certain words: "When blogs say 'infer' and 'probably show' you know they're on shaky ground". They would say that: They always attack facts and reason to divert attention from their attempts to mislead. So, when I said, "we can infer", it was just another way of saying "it's bloody obvious", because it is. The word "probably" in the next paragraph was poor word choice, so I've added strike-through and changed it to "actually", because that's obviously the correct word.

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