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Jun 24 2014

New Poll on LGBT Discrimination

YouGov has a new poll of 1000 Americans that reveals a lot about the limitations of such polling, how just a slight change in the wording of a question can dramatically change the results. The poll was about workplace discrimination against LGBT people. Here was the first question:

Would you favor or oppose a law prohibiting job discrimination by employers against gays and lesbians?

With that wording, 50% supported such a law and 38% said they didn’t (12% said they didn’t know). Then the second warning:

Do you think it should be legal or illegal for an employer to fire someone for being gay or lesbian?

That’s the same as the first question, but the results when stated this clearly were very, very different. 76% said it should be illegal to fie someone for being gay or lesbian and only 12% said it should be legal. Unfortunately, the poll also revealed huge ignorance on this question:

To the best of your knowledge, would you say it is currently legal or illegal under federal law to fire someone for being gay or lesbian?

62% thought it was illegal under federal law to discriminate against gay people, with only 14% accurately knowing that it’s not.

19 comments

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  1. 1
    Modusoperandi

    It’s should not be illegal to fire people for being gay. If I couldn’t purge The Gays from my workforce do you know how much product would “disappear” from my glitter mines every single day? Luckily, they aren’t hard to root out. All I have to do is slowly drive around the grounds towing a flatbed trailer, and they come running out to dance on it. And furthermore…

  2. 2
    sabrekgb

    Limits of polling notwithstanding, i sometimes fear for our nation. Can a free state survive democracy? *sigh* Silly voters…

  3. 3
    lofgren

    1. When conducting polls, we place significant value on “neutral” language, but is either phrasing really “neutral?” I suspect that most people would find that the phrasing that got the answer closer to what they believe should be the case would find that phrasing more neutral.

    2. Is it possible that subjects are reading other forms of discrimination into the first phrasing? For example, maybe they think that a person should not be fired just for being gay, but it is OK to give better opportunities (for example meeting with clients who may potentially have antigay attitudes) to straight people. It seems to me that they are not quite the same question.

  4. 4
    Reginald Selkirk

    I think the first question has too many layers. 1) The employer discriminates. 2) The suggested law prohibits. 3) You favour or oppose the law. I’m guessing a lot of respondents couldn’t track a triple negative.

  5. 5
    Zeno

    To detect sensitivity to question phrasing, responsible pollsters test different wordings of the questions, sometimes using variations of the same question while polling a single individual, seeing if the response changes significantly from one version to the other. (Usually the two variants are separated by a number of other questions to make it less likely that the subject merely restates his or her earlier answer.) However, one of my graduate classes on testing procedures noted the problem with longterm studies, like Gallup poll questions about religious beliefs asked over several decades. You’re sort of stuck with the original phrasing unless you want to risk altered responses to altered questions, calling into question comparability across the years. Then, too, a perfectly cromulent question from the fifties might carry different connotations to respondents you poll in the nineties. Tricky stuff.

  6. 6
    Reginald Selkirk

    However, one of my graduate classes on testing procedures noted the problem with longterm studies, like Gallup poll questions about religious beliefs asked over several decades…

    Like that Creationism poll that gives you a choice between A) Young Earth Creationism B) Theistic evolution or C) Atheistic evolution. Old Earth Creationists and other variants are left wondering which pigeon hole they fit in.

  7. 7
    cptdoom

    Another interpretation of the results is that people, who according to the third question already think it’s illegal to fire someone for their sexual orientation, don’t see the need for additional laws and so answer question 1 at a lower approval rate. It would have been interesting for the pollster to correct the misinformation after question three and re-asked question 1.

  8. 8
    jameshanley

    The phrasings aren’t actually the same. Discrimination is broader.

  9. 9
    Taz

    Even though the first question says “job discrimination”, I think some people conflated it with business discrimination. I.e., a wedding photography not wanting to work a same-sex wedding.

  10. 10
    throwaway, never proofreads, every post a gamble

    Thirding those two questions aren’t the same at all. At no point was it mentioned in the first question that the gays and lesbians being discriminated against were employees, nor did it say what type of discrimination would be prohibited. But how many people were aware enough to note such a difference?

  11. 11
    throwaway, never proofreads, every post a gamble

    Meh, I guess ‘employers’ was supposed to imply ‘employees’? But that’s an indirect inference, along with the ‘job discrimination’, which is as stated a broader category. The tricky part is determining how much of the 26% difference took that into account…

  12. 12
    zmidponk

    Actually the two questions aren’t the same. It is possible to discriminate against someone in a job without firing them, for example, someone could find themselves being consistently passed over for promotion for no apparent work-related reason, but aren’t actually fired. Of course, this means that the results suggest some people are A-OK with employers discriminating against gay/lesbian people, as long as they don’t actually fire them for that reason, which kinda makes no sense to me, to be honest.

  13. 13
    lofgren

    Of course, this means that the results suggest some people are A-OK with employers discriminating against gay/lesbian people, as long as they don’t actually fire them for that reason, which kinda makes no sense to me, to be honest.

    Yeah, the obvious follow up is “What kinds of discrimination should be legal?”

  14. 14
    timberwoof

    Another common interpretation of the first wording, “Would you favor or oppose a law prohibiting job discrimination by employers against gays and lesbians?” is that this means it would become illegal to fire someone who is gay or Lesbian. Many people believe that existing anti-discrimination laws make it illegal to fire a black person for any reason. They don’t understand that the laws aren’t about black people or women or gay people, they are about race, gender, and sexual orientation.

    lofgren, discrimination against people who are not qualified to do the job is legal … as long as the qualifications aren’t designed to be otherwise prejudicial.

  15. 15
    Die Anyway

    LGBT…LGBT… Aaarrrghh. Shudder.

    Doesn’t anybody know the golldang alphabet. BGLT. BGLT. BGLT.

    Whew! I feel better already. Alphabetic order is restored. But it’s only going to last for a few minutes before somebody puts it out of order again.. brrrr

    Die Anyway
    President, The Society for Acronyms in Alphabetic Order (AAOST)

  16. 16
    lofgren

    lofgren, discrimination against people who are not qualified to do the job is legal … as long as the qualifications aren’t designed to be otherwise prejudicial.

    Yeah, I don’t buy that most people are this pedantic. Discrimination is far more well established in its colloquial meaning of unequal treatment due to irrelevant characteristics than in the technical meaning of discrimination as any recognition of differences between two things. In fact at this point you find that discrimination almost always carries a negative connotation of unfair or unjust treatment.

  17. 17
    chrisdevries

    @ #14 (timberwoof): Job discrimination means to treat one employee different (i.e. worse) from another based on characteristics that have nothing to do with performance. Or at least, that’s the modern connotation.

    I was unaware that homosexuality was not a protected class under federal law. I thought the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission includes sexual orientation and gender identity as classes protected from discrimination by the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which the Commission enforces. Granted, ENDA has not been passed, but the EEOC can still go after private companies which discriminate against gays and transgendered people, can’t they?

  18. 18
    kragtor

    @17, Sex is protected(male/female) but not sexual orientation. If sexual orientation was protected then marriage equality would not be an issue; it would be federally guaranteed. Also, I think transsexual is not protected in the current understanding of those laws.

  19. 19
    freehand

    When I was 13 or so, the subject of racial equality in hiring came up. My dad asked “What if an employer thought that hiring a black person would result in reduced sales?” I acknowledged that was a possibility, and wondered how I could justify asking someone else to take a hit in sales. The Civil Rights act of 1964, which came along shortly after, solves that conundrum. By forcing everybody to the same minimal fair treatment. businesses could do the right thing without suffering financially. Plus, everybody (meaning mostly white racists) got used to it much more quickly.
    .
    A top down anti-discrimination decision reduces the unfair financial costs of equality early adopting businesses.

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