Tuesday, September 06, 2011

State Fair polls: there's a message here somewhere

It's great that about 2/3rds of fairgoers who stopped at the Minnesota House of Representatives booth to take their annual survey think it's a bad idea to write marriage discrimination into our constitution. But as a sign of the prospects for the upcoming election, the results mean very little.

Statistically speaking, the State Fair surveys are no more valid than an online poll on the Star Tribune website. With no random sample, the results are not a reliable measurement of anything other than the opinion of those who took the survey. Despite that, legislators always declare that they consider  the results seriously. Given the design and validity of the survey, I can't. It's disappointing that the surveys no longer ask for party identification and geographic distribution (as the 2009 Senate survey did), since that would make the results a bit more instructive.

Consider that over 1.7 million people attended the 2011 Great Minnesota Get Together and of them, 12,549 filled out the survey at the Minnesota House booth. That's .71% of the total attendees. Still, that is a record, and a 25% increase over last year. The House survey attracted over 4,100 more voters than the Minnesota Senate booth (right next door) which saw only 8,324 completed surveys. While the difference in numbers could be attributed to a variety of causes, the most obvious is the hot question on the House survey that the Senate didn't ask:
2. Should the state constitution be amended to define marriage as “only a union of one man and one woman?”
Groups gearing up to support and oppose the marriage discrimination amendment encouraged their supporters to vote on question 2. This makes it difficult to ascertain whether one side stuffed the survey box with an overweighted grouping of their own supporters. But results on voter identification suggest that the added votes on the House survey didn't come from just marriage discrimination amendment opponents.

In previous years, support for requiring voters to show identification ran in the high 60's - low 70's. This year both surveys asked questions about voter ID with much closer results. The House survey showed narrow majority support (50.8%) for "should voters be required to show a current, government-issued picture ID before casting their ballot?" The Senate survey showed a narrow majority (50.4%) opposed to "would you support a constitutional amendment that would require individuals to provide a photo ID before they are given an election ballot for voting?" There's certainly a difference in wording here, and there will always be a group of people who'll oppose a constitutional amendment just because it's a constitutional amendment. In fact, all four questions on the surveys that asked if respondents supported a constitutional amendment failed to get majority support. Nonetheless, the rather similar results suggest that the 4,100 additional respondents to the House survey were relatively similar to the group that took the Senate survey.

The results are certainly encouraging for amendment opponents, but the only sure lesson we can draw are that the marriage discrimination amendment inspires passion on both sides and will drive turnout in 2012.

Follow me on Twitter @aaronklemz

No comments: