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Wednesday, December 1, 2010

The American Public and "Don’t Ask Don’t Tell"

1. The U.S. military has released the results of its massive study of military service men and women on the issue of repealing the currently applicable “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy. Interested observers probably would do well by reading through the precise topline of the results, available here. All in all, the respondents were asked 102 questions. The question that has received the most attention is Q62a. Reading through the actual questionnaire document is important, because it gives one the entire context and survey experience the respondents went through. All surveying for this project appears to be have been done online.

2. What about the general American public? Our data suggest that the majority of Americans are OK with openly gay men and lesbian women serving in the military. As they have been for a number of years. We have updated these attitudes three times over the past six years. The question construction we use is as follows: “Do you favor or oppose allowing openly gay men and lesbian women to serve in the military?”

The percentage saying “favor” has gone from 63% in November 2004 to 70% last May -- our latest measurement. Note that 25% say they are opposed, leaving just 5% who say they don’t know.

3. There is some variance across polls on this topic. Pew Research phrases their question as follows: “Do you strongly favor, favor, oppose, or strongly oppose allowing gays and lesbians to serve openly in the military?” Pew's latest survey, conducted in early November, finds 58% in favor, with a fairly large 16% saying they don’t know.

There is a subtle difference between Gallup’s and Pew’s wording. Gallup asks about “openly gay men and lesbian women” serving in the military. Pew asks about gays and lesbians serving “openly in the military.” It is not clear if this small difference could affect the way respondents answer, but it’s possible. Also, Gallup’s last measure was from May, Pew’s was from November.

4. There are other surveys that have measured these attitudes, with still different results. A recent McClatchy-Marist poll used this question construction: "Do you think the current Democratic Congress should repeal the 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' policy and allow gay men and women to serve openly in the military or do you think they should not repeal it so they continue to serve but not openly?" The results showed virtually an even split, with 47% choosing the repeal option and 48% choosing the "don’t repeal" option.

The question wording used here is significantly different from the Gallup and Pew wording. It asks about a proactive step to repeal an existing law, which may have the effect of dampening positive reactions. It also provides an explicit alternative that reminds respondents that without repeal, gay men and women can still serve in the military.

5. An NBC News/The Wall Street Journal poll asks: "Now, thinking about the military: Let me read you three statements about gay men and women serving in the military, and please tell me which one comes closest to your point of view. I favor allowing gay men and women to serve in the military. I favor allowing gay men and women to serve in the military under the existing 'don't ask, don't tell' policy. I oppose allowing gay men and women to serve in the military." Given these three choices a bare majority of 50% choose the first alternative, 38% choose the second, and 10% the third.

Giving respondents three alternatives can produce different responses than giving them two responses. Again, as was the case for the McClatchy-Marist poll question wording, the NBC News/The Wall Street Journal wording provides respondents with the explicit statement in the second alternative that gay men and women would still be allowed to serve. Also, this wording doesn’t offer much to respondents to explain the difference between the first and second alternative. For those respondents not following this closely, the difference between options one and two may have been somewhat murky.

6. A Quinnipiac Poll conducted Nov. 8-15 finds 58% support when Americans were asked the following: "Federal law currently prohibits openly gay men and women from serving in the military. Do you think this law should be repealed or not?"

This question doesn’t give respondents the explicit alternative that gay men and women would continue to be allowed to serve without repeal, just not openly.

7. The bottom line is a conclusion that Americans certainly tilt toward allowing openly gay men and women to serve in the military (or to allow gay men and women to serve openly in the military), although the level of support appears fairly susceptible to being lowered if certain arguments are made in certain ways.

8. Of interest is the breakdown in support for allowing openly gay men and women to serve (based on the Gallup question wording), as reviewed by my colleague Lymari Morales last May.The compelling finding is that a majority of every demographic group included was in favor of openly gay men and lesbian women serving in the military, at least in response to Gallup’s question wording. The range went from a high of 85% support among moderates to 53% support among conservatives. Sixty percent of Republicans favor the proposition.

9. Repealing Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell is not Americans' highest priority for the current lame-duck Congress. We recently included “Passing legislation to allow openly gay men and women to serve in the military” in a list of five issues on which the lame-duck Congress could focus.

Thirty-two percent say focusing on gays in the military is a very important issue, essentially tying it with passing legislation dealing with the children of illegal immigrants -- at the bottom of the list. Forty-one percent said that legislation relating to gays in the military was not too or not at all important. At the top of the list was “passing legislation that would keep the estate tax from increasing significantly next year,” which was seen as very important by 56% of Americans. Half said extending some form of the federal income tax cuts passed under George W. Bush is very important.


BoyBlue said...
December 7, 2010 at 9:51 AM  

The polls mentioned in Polling Matters are all flawed in various ways. Each poll could add, "Do you trust this poll to be representative of all voters?"

If elected government representatives cast their votes based on polls there would be no need for legislative representatives to meet. Just have the courts or the president declare the poll results to be the law.

Or, have legislative bodies, or have all voters, select one person to cast his/her vote based on poll results in behalf of all legislators.

Would any of these alternatives be democratic government? I think not. To do so would amount to binding results of town hall type meetings.

Still another alternative would be to elect a constitutional monarchy with absolute power to govern, elected by all voters, to serve for a lifetime and elect somebody else upon his/her demise or otherwise failure to serve.

J. T. Price
Dallas, Texas

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