Peter Sprigg’s Tortured Logic

If you want to see some truly bizarre “reasoning,” look at this post by Peter Sprigg of the Family Research Council. Marriage equality was 4 for 4 on election day earlier this month, but Sprigg somehow manages to pretend that this proves that marriage equality is still wildly unpopular. Take a look at these mental gymnastics:

Advocates of homosexual marriage will celebrate the outcome in these states as a breakthrough indicating momentum in support of redefining our most fundamental social institution. The irony, however, is that their narrow margin of victory in these four relatively liberal states may provide evidence that a solid majority of Americans nationwide still opposes same-sex marriage.

How can that be? The answer is simple. In a year in which the losing candidate for president, Republican Mitt Romney, won 48 percent of the popular vote nationwide, the one-man-one-woman marriage position strongly outpolled Romney in all four states where the marriage issue was on the ballot.

Yes, he thinks that the fact that the average percentage of votes for marriage equality in those states was less than the average percentage of votes for Obama proves that “a solid majority of Americans nationwide still opposes same-sex marriage.” Here are his averages and his argument:

Adding the vote totals for all four states together, I came up with the following totals:

For same-sex marriage: 51.99% (for Obama 56.70%)

For natural 1M1W marriage: 47.18% (for Romney 40.95%)

Thus, in the four states combined, the pro-family position outpolled Romney by 6.2 percent…

It also, however, casts doubt upon the claims (from some recent public opinion polls) that a majority of Americans now support legalizing same-sex marriage. How do I calculate that? Well, in these four states, the vote in favor of homosexual marriage was only 91 percent as large as Obamas vote, while the vote to defend the natural marriage of a man and a woman was 114 percent of Romneys vote.

If we extrapolate those figures to the popular vote for Obama (50.8 percent) and Romney (47.6 percent) nationwide, we come up with an estimate that 54 percent of Americans would probably still vote to define marriage as the union of one man and one woman, while only 46 percent would vote to redefine it a solid margin of 8 percent.

Yeah. If you ignore all of the other polling data that shows a clear trend in favor of marriage equality nationally. this is pure desperation. I’d love to place a very large bet with Sprigg on how such referendums will go in 2014 and 2016. He’d lose.

27 comments on this post.
  1. Zinc Avenger (Sarcasm Tags 3.0 Compliant):

    Unilaterally declaring victory in the midst of defeat was entertaining when it was done by the Iraqi Information Minister.

    It’s less funny when he appears to have inspired the Right in the US.

  2. eric:

    Ed, you should collect all these ‘in reality, we won’ types of analyses. Title it “More math you do as a Republican to make yourself feel better.”

  3. F [disappearing]:

    our most fundamental social institution.

    You can get married pretty much anywhere. Have fun in all those other societies which are less free than ours, less capitalist, etc. And if we had a time machine…

  4. noastronomer:

    News flash: Republicans are bad at math too!

    Mike.
    Who is still confused about why how people live their lives is subject to any sort of vote at all.

  5. tubi:

    @1
    Exactly. Tariq Aziz should be tapped to replace Reince Preibus.

    As for polling, can’t you just call a bunch of Americans and ask them straight up what they think about SSM? Yes, I know that’s what happens, but Sprigg seems not to know that that’s easier than massaging unrelated numbers to get the result you want.

    Talk about skewing a poll.

  6. eric:

    can’t you just call a bunch of Americans and ask them straight up what they think about SSM? Yes, I know that’s what happens, but Sprigg seems not to know that that’s easier than massaging unrelated numbers to get the result you want.

    You’re suggesting they take the acoustic reflectors out of the echo chamber. It won’t echo if they do that.

  7. dugglebogey:

    I appreciate the subtle “fuck you” by calling his side of the position “pro-family.” Because it can only be a “family” if it consist of the parts they think is appropriate, including a man, a woman and children.

    Well my fucking family doesn’t consist of that, and I’ll be god-damned if I’m going to let him get away with calling my family something other than a right-wing approved version of “family.”

  8. scienceavenger:

    I can’t believe any republican backroomer is still willing to waste precious party resources fighting what is obviously a lost cause. At this point it is more likely that marijuana will become legal in all 50 states than it is for gay marriage to be made illegal in all 50, something I never thought I’d be able to say. With marriage, there’s no putting the genie back in the bottle.

    I can’t wait to see what states put similar measures on the ballot in 2014, and what contorted reasoning the anti-non-WASP-family crowd comes up to explain that.

  9. jamessweet:

    You know, I actually don’t think this argument is that crazy. It contradicts the national polling data, but then again in the runup the election the state polling data and the national polling data were famously in contradiction, and we know which model paid off in that case…

    Two caveats, of course: First, what the polling data says is irrelevant to what is right; marriage equality is the right thing to do and would be even if 99.9% of the country were against it. And second, public support for marriage equality has been on a steep upward trajectory for years, and there is no sign that this trajectory will slow down. If a majority still oppose, that will not be the case for much longer.

    But those caveats out of the way, I think Spriggs has made a reasonable case here to have at least some doubt in the national numbers. His hypothesis rests on the assumption that state-by-state support for marriage equality will roughly track with party affiliation, which as an unproven-but-not-entirely-crazy assumption. It’s legitimate food for thought, IMO.

  10. eric:

    Jamessweet:

    His hypothesis rests on the assumption that state-by-state support for marriage equality will roughly track with party affiliation, which as an unproven-but-not-entirely-crazy assumption.

    Keep in mind that it didn’t track that way 20 years ago, and won’t track that way 20 years from now. His conclusion appears to rest on the assumption that a relatively unique and most likely temporary social policy correlation will hold up forever…AND that the GOP numbers will stay high and not be affected by the other demographic changes everyone predicts will hurt them.

    So, pretty crazy.

  11. Ichthyic:

    It contradicts the national polling data, but then again in the runup the election the state polling data and the national polling data were famously in contradiction, and we know which model paid off in that case…

    but, you have to remember WHY a particular model paid off.

    it wasn’t random, that’s for sure.

  12. johnryder:

    Statistically Minnesota voted for Obama by the 19th biggest margin, so by his logic there are 18 other states where gay marriage would become legal by popular vote.

    That actually sounds about right to me.

  13. hunter:

    He can massage the numbers all he wants (and I seem to remember that in 2008 and 2009, 52-48% was a “decisive victory” for the anti-marriage crowd), but the point remains: his side lost.

  14. John Hinkle:

    Well, in these four states, the vote in favor of homosexual marriage was only 91 percent as large as Obamas vote, while the vote to defend the natural marriage of a man and a woman was 114 percent of Romneys vote.

    Statistical gymnastics are needed when the demise of your position is a statistical certainty. It’s SOP for those in the reality-denying tribe.

    I think it goes something like this: Jesus Christ almighty godammit for fuck’s sake son of a bitch, there’s gotta be a reason I’m right!

  15. Randomfactor:

    I can’t decide if this guy doesn’t know how percentages work, or DOES know that the rubes funding him haven’t a clue how percentages work. I suspect the latter.

  16. cottonnero:

    Randomfactor #15: With the number of inmates running the asylum in the current GOP, I’m not so sure. (You may be right; I just think the error bar on my confidence estimate has gotten a lot wider in the past three years.)

  17. chrisdevries:

    Reminds me of Karl Rove mocking our so-called “reality-based community”, like somehow, reality is mutable.

    Mitt Romney was stunned to lose this election because he thought he could create his own reality. The religious right was equally stunned to see all of their lobbying, all of the billions in superPAC funds they invested, pay off with the triumph of secular values in all of the relevant ballot initiatives. Manufacturing your own reality has its drawbacks…eventually, the truth catches up with you.

    The histrionics we’re seeing now are the early death throes of the wishful-thinking movement. I seriously doubt they’ll ever die completely – even in Europe, there is irrationality across the political spectrum, not to mention lingering religious dogma. But the reality-based community’s ultimate goal, if we are to pick one that should take precedence over all others, is to push these morons to the fringes of society where they have no power to hurt anyone except themselves (hopefully we can ensure their children learn enough in school to have a chance to separate themselves from their parents’ dogma). Let them generate their own reality. As long as we are left to live in, and make decisions based on the reality that actually exists, let them have their delusions.

    We have a long way to go before we live in this kind of world (and as someone who values reality, I can admit it), but our efforts, combined with the insane own goals the deluded keep scoring which bring them into further disrepute, are gradually changing society for the better.

  18. jamessweet:

    His conclusion appears to rest on the assumption that a relatively unique and most likely temporary social policy correlation will hold up forever

    Well, no, it only has to be true today… unless I’m misunderstanding part of the argument.

    but, you have to remember WHY a particular model paid off.

    it wasn’t random, that’s for sure.

    AbsoLUTEly, and that’s why I don’t say, “OMG he’s right!” I was referring to the success of the state polling in the nat’l election not so much to support Spriggs’ argument, but rather to undermine Ed’s counter-argument that, “The nat’l polls say such-and-such, so neener-neener.”

    To be clear: The null hypothesis here is that Spriggs is wrong. But I repeat that it’s not an entirely crazy idea.

    A couple of thoughts on why the national numbers might be more optimistic on marriage equality than reality:

    First, there is a well-known phenomenon where on social justice issues, people tend to answer pollsters more progressively than they vote — presumably because they feel like jerks publicly expressing a bigoted opinion, but in the privacy of the voting booth it is no problem. Spriggs is working from the actual voting both numbers, so it potentially bypasses that issue.

    Second, while it seems this is starting to become less true, the Bad Guys tend to really saturate a state that is about to vote on marriage equality with dishonest (and disturbingly effective) ads and propaganda. One argument would be that while the national polling numbers are a good reflection of what would happen if America voted today on marriage equality, Spriggs numbers could conceivably be a better reflection of what would happen if America voted after a vehement anti-equality national TV campaign.

    On the flip side, large polls tend to lean a little Republican (because only old people have landlines and answer the phone for strangers) so that’s an argument that the nat’l polls underestimate support for marriage equality.

    In any case, even if Spriggs is right (and I’m not saying he is; I’m just saying it’s an interesting argument that doesn’t really deserve the label “tortured logic”) the news is terrible for the anti-marriage crowd: As I mentioned before, support for marriage equality is on a steep upwards trajectory with no sign of slowing, and johnryder points out:

    Statistically Minnesota voted for Obama by the 19th biggest margin, so by his logic there are 18 other states where gay marriage would become legal by popular vote.

    The bottom line is that marriage equality is winning, and fast. The only thing Spriggs can legitimately dispute here is whether marriage equality has permanent majority support in the US today, or if that won’t be for another few years.

  19. Trebuchet:

    Mitt Romney was stunned to lose this election because he thought he could create his own reality.

    That’s pretty typical of corporate executives.

    In related news, my former employer has stated its intention not to extend retirement benefits to same sex spouses and is getting some heat for it.

    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/11/22/boeing-gay-marriage-partner-benefits-_n_2174561.html

    This has come up in negotiations with my former union. My guess here is that the company hadn’t really thought about it and got caught flat-footed when asked by SPEEA. They previously embarrassed themselves by offering a contract which cut benefits to reservists deployed by the military, and had to backtrack in a hurry.

  20. Trebuchet:

    Oh, and continuing my off-topic-ness, that’s an interesting picture in the HuffPo article. The airplane they’ve pasted into the background is an Airbus A380!

  21. Michael Heath:

    Mitt Romney was stunned to lose this election because he thought he could create his own reality.

    Trebuchet responds:

    That’s pretty typical of corporate executives.

    Citation requested.

  22. Trebuchet:

    @ Michael Heath: No thanks, I don’t care to get into that again. You’ve got your ideas and I’ve got mine.

    You can, however, look into the debacle of the Boeing 787 development if you wish. Managed mostly by Jack Welch acolytes.

  23. roggg:

    So 4 loser ballot initiatives are slightly less losery than one loser of a presidential candidate in 4 states, and that’s a win? Way to set the bar!

  24. Michael Heath:

    Mitt Romney was stunned to lose this election because he thought he could create his own reality.

    Trebuchet responds:

    That’s pretty typical of corporate executives.

    I respond:

    Citation requested.

    Trebuchet responds:

    No thanks, I don’t care to get into that again. You’ve got your ideas and I’ve got mine.

    Ideas* are not what you were challenged on, but instead a factual assertion you make in this thread. I’m skeptical your factual assertion is true and therefore asked for verification. I can’t believe this famous quip needs to be addressed to a reader in this forum, but it’s the perfect response:

    Everyone is entitled to his own [ideas] opinion, but not his own facts.

    It’s poor form to attempt to misinform other readers. And then to resist validating what you provocatively assert . . . Well, it’s never a pretty sight watching someone avoid defending a belief they can’t validate simply to go on believing it.

    Trebuchet concludes:

    You can, however, look into the debacle of the Boeing 787 development if you wish. Managed mostly by Jack Welch acolytes.

    An uncited factual assertion that’s a sample size of one is mere anecdotal evidence; that just digs your hole even deeper. Save the anecdotes to illustrate the nature of a population which you’ve already validated, don’t depend on an anecdote to defend your assertion about an entire population as you do here.

  25. Ichthyic:

    Citation requested.

    you know as a scientist I can tell you that you can cite “personal experience” legitimately in a paper.

    I’ve certainly met more than a handful of CEO’s when i worked Silicon Valley that left me with a distinct impression they felt they could create their own realities.

    How in the hell would you be able to quantify and analyze it?

    how would you form it into a hypothesis?

    so, yeah, I think the only thing trebuchet should have responded to your request with is a simple but legitimate “personal experience” and… done.

  26. Childermass:

    Zinc Avenger @ 1: Unilaterally declaring victory in the midst of defeat was entertaining when it was done by the Iraqi Information Minister.

    Declaring victory in defeat is standard operating procedure for militaries around the world and throughout history. Though admittedly Baghdad Bob was a bit more absurd than usual.

    Why should we expect those on the losing side of history to be any different. Indeed, this standard operating procedure will be far worse with them. They will die thinking they are the “majority” (or at least the “majority” that should count). After all, unlike a real war there will never come a point which their “enemies” will simply shoot them for denying defeat.

  27. abb3w:

    2014 is a much less safe bet than 2016. Most obviously, because the trend to increasing support will have had two more years to develop, but also for another reason. Like irreligion, marijuana legalization, and Barack Omama, support for gay marriage tends to be dramatically higher among the young than the old. Younger voters have a pronounced tendency to turn out as a smaller fraction for midterm elections; according to this source, 18-24 year olds were 18% of the voting electorate in 2008 and 19% in 2012, but only 11% in the 2010 elections. A reduced fraction of this critical demographic means there’s a very good chance that ballot measures might have a harder chance in 2014 than they did in 2012.

    Contrariwise, in so far as young people are also most likely to strongly support legalizing gay marriage, having ballot measures to try and enshrine/overthrow bigotry might help motivate them to get out and vote — essentially, turning the religious right’s traditional tactic on its head.

    It might be effective for some hyper-progressive PAC to risk the toxic fallout of running an ad first showing sourpuss senior citizens (mostly white and male) giving hyper-bigoted arguments against gay marriage, then having some (more diverse) happy young college students arguing in favor, and against letting the old folk enshrine their bigotries in law.

    Assuming the SCOTUS doesn’t render the whole state-level question politically moot, a naive glance suggests the best odds for reversing existing bans over the next couple years would seem to be Hawaii, California, Illinois, Oregon, and Michigan. There might also be progress on full marriage equality in Rhode Island and New Mexico. However, if it comes up to ballot initiatives elsewhere, I’d expect it to be voted down… the catch being, in most of the red states there’s no room to move gay marriage bans further to the political right, making it hard to bring the ballot initiatives.

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