Campaigns Don't Change Core Beliefs: Study

Tuesday, Jun 15, 2010  |  Updated 4:30 PM PDT
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Campaigns Don't Change Core Beliefs: Study

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SAN FRANCISCO - JUNE 17: Same-sex couple Paul Festa (R) and James Harker hold thier marriage certificate after they were married at San Francisco City Hall June 17, 2008 in San Francisco, California. Same-sex couples throughout California are rushing to get married as counties begin issuing marriage license after a State Supreme Court ruling to allow same-sex marriage. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

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 A San Francisco-based foundation released a study Tuesday that shows  that voters nationwide don't change their minds during the course of an  election campaign on whether to approve a ban on same-sex marriage.

     Patrick Egan, an assistant professor of political science at New  York University, said the study looked at whether ballot measure campaigns  "change voters' hearts and minds in a particular direction."      "That just doesn't happen," Egan said. 
     The study examined more than 100 polls taken in the six months  before votes on ballot measures on same-sex marriage and domestic partnership  in 32 states between 1998 and 2009. In most of the elections, including one  on California's Proposition 8 in 2008, voters approved a ban on same-sex  marriage.
     Egan said, "This report indicates that neither advocates nor  opponents (of same-sex marriage) tended to gain support in any consistent  fashion during these campaigns, despite the millions of dollars spent by both  sides over the past decade."
     The study, which was the focus of a news conference in San  Francisco, was conducted by Egan and commissioned by the Evelyn and Walter  Haas Jr. Fund, a private foundation that has among its goals the advancement  of gay and lesbian rights.
     Representatives of gay rights groups said the lesson they draw  from the study is that an attempt to influence citizens to support same-sex  marriage needs to begin well before an election campaign.
     Kate Kendell, executive director of the San Francisco-based  National Center of Lesbian Rights, said, "Clearly, the time to change hearts,  minds and votes to support equality is before a campaign starts."
     Egan said the study didn't show what would happen if one side  simply didn't participate in a campaign on the issue, but noted, "No  political scientist would say just put down your guns" if the other side has  a well-funded campaign.
     Egan said a second finding of the study is that polls consistently  underestimate the number of people who will vote in support of a ban on  same-sex marriage.
     He said the percentage of people who voted to ban same-sex  marriage during the past decade was typically about 3 points higher than the  percentage shown in polls.
     Egan said the reason for that is unknown but he speculated that it  may have to do with the way pollsters screen likely voters.
     The professor said the phenomenon suggests that same-sex marriage  advocates "need to be ahead by a healthy margin in the polls in order to have  a chance for victory in any traditional campaign."
 

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