Propaganda as polling




Robert Oliver and Mark Heller hold hands, draped in flags, as they celebrate the Supreme Court ruling on same-sex marriage on June 26, 2015, in West Hollywood, California. Photo by David McNew | Getty Images

When an organization that defines itself as fighting the expansion of rights for LGBTQ Arizonans announces the results of a poll it commissioned and declares that Arizona voters “are not close” to support for LGBTQ rights – and are dramatically different than previous opinion polls – one should take note.

And one should also click on the link in the press release that reveals the questions asked in the poll.

I did, and there’s a good reason that these results have Cathi Herrod, the leader of the anti-LGBTQ Center for Arizona Policy and its political organization, crowing about how the poll “confirms what I and others have understood for a long time” – namely, that Arizonans don’t want their LGBTQ neighbors to have the same rights that they do.

The questions in the poll were specifically crafted with political messaging aimed at swaying responses. The poll, in essence, is a political tool aimed at countering the fast-changing beliefs about sexual orientation and identity. 

In doing so, the poll provides cover for people like Herrod and her allies – including those at the legislature – to reassure themselves that their attitudes aren’t actually out-of-step with society. 

In more Trumpian terms, the poll creates a set of alternative facts for the anti-LGBTQ crowd to hide behind.

And don’t take my word for it: The pollster readily admits to the true aims of the poll’s questions.

“We worded them intentionally to be a counterbalance and provide the other side,” said pollster George Khalaf, a GOP political consultant. “They’re not neutral.”

Valid opinion polling, it should be said, doesn’t seek to “counterbalance” or provide any side. Rather, it seeks to discover the truth about people’s attitudes and beliefs.

Khalaf said the goal of this poll was to show the best arguments of the conservative movement that opposes things like ensuring LGBTQ customers get the same services from businesses as straight people do or passing laws that say people can’t be evicted or fired solely because they’re gay or transgender.

That’s why the poll asks loaded questions, like whether people support non-discrimination laws that “have been used to undermine religious freedom and free speech by forcing religious creative professionals to” do things like make wedding invitations or decorate wedding cakes for gay customers. 

Or bigoted questions, like whether they support laws that are “threatening the safety and privacy of women and girls” by allowing transgender people to use the bathroom they’re most comfortable in.

Or questions designed to alarm and terrify, like whether kindergartners should be taught sex-ed “with curriculum that is increasingly graphic and explicit.”

Asking neutral questions, Khalaf said, would have resulted in different answers – and that was the whole point. 

“Even that neutral framing would have it be leading to the other side,” he said.

And the only reason to put the thumb on the scale to such a heavy degree is if you feel your positions won’t be shared by voters at large.

Other polling on LGBTQ rights bears that out. In 2017, a poll commissioned by the Human Rights Campaign and conducted by Hart Research Associates found only 32% of voters in Arizona support “allowing business owners to deny services to LGBTQ people if they say doing so would violate their religious beliefs.” In the CAP poll, 56% want to continue to allow such discrimination.

The national figures also cut against CAP’s findings. Pew Research Center in 2016 surveyed 4,500 adults and found near-even splits on the question of services for LGTBQ customers and transgender bathroom use. In that survey, 48% said religious beliefs are grounds for denying service to gay people and 49% said businesses should be required to treat everyone equally. A slim majority, 51%, favored letting transgender people use the restroom of the gender with which they currently identify.

In CAP’s sham poll, in which voters are told that letting a transgender woman use the women’s bathroom threatens their wives and daughters, a whopping 63% oppose the idea.

The questions, Khalaf admitted, are “our best messaging to (run) alongside the best messaging for the other side.”

That’s not polling, that’s propaganda.