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Mar 07 2014

Equality Opponents Think They’re the Majority

One of the hallmarks of the right these days is how they convince themselves that everyone other than those liberal socialist communists agrees with them. But a new survey shows that those who oppose marriage equality vastly overestimate the degree to which others agree with them.

According to a new survey by the Public Religion Research Institute, only 41 percent of Americans oppose allowing same-sex couples to marry. But that same 41 percent has a highly skewed perception of where the rest of the country stands: nearly two-thirds of same-sex marriage opponents erroneously think most Americans agree with them. And only two in 10 same-sex marriage opponents realize that the majority of Americans support marriage equality.

What’s going on here? For starters, Americans overall don’t realize how widespread support for same-sex marriage has grown — only 34 percent of the public correctly believe that most of their peers support gay marriage. This is at least partly a function of how rapidly public opinion has shifted. Ten years ago, only 32 percent of Americans supported same-sex marriage, compared to 53 percent in favor today — a 21-point shift.

But same-sex marriage opponents are unique in the depth of their misunderstanding of the issue. Because they skew strongly conservative and deeply religious, this may be a manifestation of what Andrew Sullivan has termed “epistemic closure.” Think of this as an extreme case of confirmation bias — that tendency of people to filter out information that challenges their beliefs and preconceived notions.

Epistemic closure was most publicly and hilariously on display during Mitt Romney’s 2012 presidential bid, when conservatives “unskewed” the polls to tilt the data in their favor, and the GOP establishment appeared to be blindsided by an electoral result that many independent observers saw coming months earlier.

And this epistemic closure is largely the result of the fact that they tend to live inside of the right wing bubble, watching only Fox News and reading only right-wing websites. Thus we get Ted Cruz declaring that he’s speaking for the will of the people even while over 80% of Americans disagree with his attempts to close down the government.

17 comments

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  1. 1
    screechymonkey

    Yeah, but 100% of Real Americans(TM) oppose gay marriage!

  2. 2
    jamessweet

    I am curious, do marriage equality supporters also tend to overestimate their support? This poll doesn’t really capture that, since it only tests if people correctly know what the majority believes. I know I used to have to constantly remind my wife that we are living in a blue state, and have an extremely progressive social circle (for the most part), and that beliefs we would find shockingly backward are quite common. heh…

  3. 3
    ArtK

    When you start with the presumption that everything that you know and believe is absolutely right, you have to engage i epistemic closure to maintain your self-image. The need for religion comes from a need for certainty in an uncertain world. Doubt is the enemy of certainty, so any kind of self-doubt is dangerous. The religious who seriously entertain the question of “could I be wrong?” end up non-religious.

    In this case, the bigots have become wedded (sorry) to the idea that marriage is “one man, one woman.” They’re very certain of that “fact.” No kind of doubt can be allowed in. In part because they’ve tied their whole identity to their religion and this is a big part of that religious identity. Doubt of that ‘fact” means doubting their religion and ultimately doubting their own self-image. Scary stuff for frightened people desperate for sky-daddy to tell them everything is ok.

  4. 4
    cynix

    Not sure the facts would matter to most, if not all, of the anti-equality types. Generally they aren’t big on facts. As to their view garnering less than 50% support – why that just proves they really are a persecuted minority.

    Those who support concepts like equality, respect for others view and opinions and embrace diversity tend to forget that those on the anti-equality side are batshit crazy. And self righteous. Their ignorance is invincible. The trifecta cannot be easily overcome but must never be allowed to be the only voice on the stage.

  5. 5
    Pierce R. Butler

    But that same 41 percent has a highly skewed perception …

    Why bother with any more words than that?

  6. 6
    jnorris

    OT: autoplay advertisement activated. FTB bookmark deleted.

  7. 7
    John Pieret

    But … but … I and everyone I know is against gay marriage and we are all TYPICAL Americans!

  8. 8
    tbp1

    It’s sorta kinda a variant on the Dunning-Kruger effect.

  9. 9
    playonwords

    John #7 Correction “But nobody we know has said anything in favour of gay marriage to us despite knowing how we oppose it,”

  10. 10
    lofgren

    I am curious, do marriage equality supporters also tend to overestimate their support?

    As a general rule, people overestimate how much others share their views. What’s significant in this case is the degree.

  11. 11
    Synfandel

    There has been talk lately of US society approaching a ‘tipping point’ on the same-sex marriage issue, at which public opinion will pick up speed in its trend toward acceptance. We need to remember that there will also be a braking point at which the remaining opponents of same-sex marriage will increasingly be the hard core who are simply never going to change their minds. And we don’t know how large that hard core will be: 10%, 20%, 40%? We just don’t know.

  12. 12
    gorgias

    The sad part is that once it really hits home for the anti-equality crowd that they’re the minority, many of them will immediately begin changing their minds. As much as Christians enjoy their persecution role-play, most of them don’t actually like the idea of going against popular opinion.

  13. 13
    D. C. Sessions

    At least around here (Phoenix) there’s also the very skewed work environment. The farther to the right (all-Fox, all the time) they are, the louder and more open they are about their politics and social positions. Those of us who don’t go with that program tend to keep a very low profile, because rightly or wrongly we seem to share the belief that openly disagreeing will have adverse career consequences. Like, say, getting fired.

    Could be. I’m gone, although it may not have been politics. Not my problem any more.

  14. 14
    cptdoom

    Actually @12 gorgias, the real issue will be when the fundies realize they are losing & resort to violence. There was an incident this week in the Village in NY in which a gay couple celebrating their 10th anniversary were attacked @ a subway stop for holding hands. I fear, in the short run, we will face more violence for being openly gay – rather than acceptance.

  15. 15
    dingojack

    jamessweet -
    “According to a new survey by the Public Religion Research Institute, only 41 percent of Americans oppose allowing same-sex couples to marry. But that same 41 percent has a highly skewed perception of where the rest of the country stands: nearly two-thirds of same-sex marriage opponents erroneously think most Americans agree with them. And only two in 10 same-sex marriage opponents realize that the majority of Americans support marriage equality.”

    I think that sort of answers your question. Two-thirds of opponents and very few supporters (around 20%, say), overestimate the amount of support they can command.
    I agree from this, there aren’t any real numbers. But it, in itself, is highly suggestive.

    Dingo

  16. 16
    leonardschneider

    “Epistemic Closure” would be a good name for a math-rock band.

  17. 17
    dingojack

    Wouldn’t ‘Check 1 2′ be better for a math rock band?
    Dingo

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