Saturday, October 15, 2011

Lying by the numbers

You just can’t make truth up, though Tony Perkins, the head bigot at the anti-gay hate group “Family” Research Council, surely tries. His group put out a desperate plea for Americans to oppose marriage equality, even though polls show a declining number are clinging to that losing proposition. To make his case, he calls equality advocates liars, using rightwing propaganda as his “evidence”.

Perkins’ attacked polls like those of Gallup, centring on the wording of questions about marriage equality. Actually, that’s often a point of contention for both the left and the right, which is why legitimate polling organisations mix up their questions, the order they’re asked, and actually put quite a lot of thought into wording so the answers are as close to accurate as may be possible. So, ideological attacks on legitimate polling organisations are usually more about politics than science, which is certainly the case with Perkins.

Perkins’ approvingly cited an alternative poll, and the problem with it is the wording because of the source: It was conducted by a Mormon political activist who was part of California’s successful banning of gay marriage through Proposition 8. Among other things, he conducted polling for the anti-gay side, polls whose legitimacy were also questioned.

So, this rightwing Mormon political activist conducts a poll that finds—surprise, surprise!—evidence to support his extremist religious-political views, namely, that 64% supposedly oppose marriage equality. This is nonsense, obtained by selective wording. It is, in other words, a real example of what Perkins was whining about Gallup doing.

The difference in these polling efforts is that Gallup is a reputable polling organisation that employs scientific methods to collect reliable data. We can’t say the same for the poll cited by Perkins because we know nothing other than it was a supposedly random poll of 1,000 people in all 50 US states. What was his methodology? What were the questions? What is his margin of error? What is the confidence level? We can’t tell because that information isn’t provided and the pollster doesn’t even have a website. By contrast, legitimate polling organisations like Gallup release all this data to make it possible for us to evaluate their poll.

Perkins’ poll is nothing more than a political propaganda ploy, and as such it’s similar to polling touted by another member of the anti-gay industry. Back when the New York legislature was considering enacting marriage equality, the National Organization for Man-Lady Only Marriage touted a poll that they claimed showed a large and clear majority of New Yorkers opposed the move. Trouble is, like Perkins’ poll, it wasn’t worth the paper it was printed on. The New York claim was dismissed as the propaganda it was; you’d think Perkins would’ve learned from that, but he apparently thinks Americans are too stupid to know any better.

In a way, it’s understandable that Perkins and the other bigots in the anti-gay industry would do this: Most people don’t understand statistics and don’t know how to evaluate polls. They’re not stupid, just not well enough informed or, frankly, don’t have much reason to sit and analyse polls thoroughly. So the bigots prey on that, presenting nonsense polls as if they’re real and legitimate. They hope to hoodwink ordinary people or, at least, to confuse them so they don’t know what the truth is.

The continual use of lies, smears and distortion and the increasingly bizarre and unhinged rhetoric that the anti-gay industry is using to defame GLBT people is a sign of their growing, frantic desperation as mainstream society moves on and begins to leave the anti-gay bigots in the dust of the past.

The folks in the anti-gay industry are entitled to their opinions, no matter how bigoted or even sick they may be. They are not, however, entitled to their own facts. No matter how many phoney polls they parade around, the facts are clear: They’re on the wrong side of this issue, the wrong side of mainstream people and the wrong side of history. The facts are, you don’t need a phoney poll to tell you that.

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