Tuesday, July 29, 2003

Lies, damn lies, and polls. No sooner did I post an item about the latest USA Today poll regarding attitudes toward homosexuality than TB and JVC pointed me to another, later, story that appears to place a completely different interpretation on the same numbers.

In today's USAT, Susan Page reports:

Americans have become significantly less accepting of homosexuality since a Supreme Court decision that was hailed as clearing the way for new gay civil rights, a USA TODAY/CNN/Gallup Poll has found. After several years of growing tolerance, the survey shows a return to a level of more traditional attitudes last seen in the mid-1990s.

The headline: an unequivocal "Poll Shows Backlash on Gay Issues."

Yet I wasn't hallucinating when I posted this link to Page's Monday story, headlined "Gay Rights Tough to Sharpen into Political 'Wedge Issue.'" Here's the money graf:

Strategists in both parties caution that the public's views are changing too rapidly to provide an easy answer. A USA TODAY/CNN/Gallup Poll indicates that public attitudes toward homosexuals are in the midst of a transformation, though the issues involved remain controversial. Analysts say the shift is fueled by a self-perpetuating cycle: More gay men and lesbians are open about their sexual orientation, prompting some of their family members and co-workers to revise their views. That in turn makes it easier for others to come out of the closet.

Regarding the sliding numbers, Page wrote in her earlier story, "Analysts at Gallup said the question would be asked again to test whether the finding reflected a change in attitudes or a temporary blip." Her follow-up suggests no such doubt about the veracity of the results.

A careful read of both stories suggests that Page was being cautiously optimistic about the poll's implications for gays and lesbians on Monday, and cautiously pessimistic today. I find it interesting that Monday's story ran on page 10A, whereas today's is on the front.

So what is going on here?

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