Do a Plurality of Mississippi Republicans Want to Ban Interracial Marriage?
A poll result like this should set off the average person’s bullshit detector, though. Even to the extent that such a high degree of support for reinstituting a ban on interracial marriage is plausible, that a plurality of Republican voters would openly admit to this in a poll is almost incomprehensible.
And sure enough, there are plenty of reasons to question this polling result*:
This poll, purported to be a weighted sampling of “400 usual Mississippi Republican primary voters,” is interesting right from the start. First, the mention of ‘weighting’ is unusual in that back in the runup to the 2010 elections, PPP polls didn’t mention any weighting. Second, the poll completely skips any opportunity to poll Democrats, either for in-state elections or the Presidential primaries. Third, usually when one polls an issue, that issue is one that was already being discussed and debated, possibly even with pending legislation. However the insertion of a question on “interracial marriage” is one that Jensen and PPP themselves introduced, not nationally but just for the Mississippi poll.
And lastly we move onto the question that brought this poll into prominence in the first place. Why on Earth would any credible pollster ask question 14 at all? “Do you think interracial marriage should be legal or illegal?” is not something that’s really up for debate in America today. I see no movement to reverse the Loving decision, I see no questioning of judges on whether they think it was rightly decided, and I see no attempts to pass laws in defiance of that decision. So-called antimiscegenation laws have no support in America today outside of a radical fringe outside of mainstream politics.
In fact my own research can’t find any marriage debate going on at all in Mississippi. The last major change to marriage law in the state came in 2002, when HB 1934 was passed implementing Covenant Marriage as an option in the state. The state had already defined marriage as between a man and a woman in 1997 when a constitutional amendment doing the same was passed in 2004. In any case, there is no movement to reverse Loving in Mississippi. The only possible reason I can think of to include this issue in this poll is to further messaging by the Democrats.
I think this just begins to show the problems with this polling question. It is not a coincidence that this question was asked only in Mississippi, which Gallup polls suggest is the most conservative state in the nation.
But there is something else here, beyond the randomness and the lack of disclosure about how the poll was weighted. The poll was done via robocall. The interracial marriage question was the 14th question in the poll. The previous 13 questions all ask as to the respondent’s opinions of various national and local public figures. The last three questions ask about the respondent’s political leanings, age, and gender.
Now, put yourself in the place of one of those respondents. You get an automated call asking you to answer some poll questions about Republican politicians. You’ve got a few minutes free so you figure, hey, why not? You start listening to the automated voice asking the questions, running slowly through the list of answers to each question. Several of the questions provide a seemingly interminable list of possible answers. Perhaps you start to get distracted or just antsy for the call to end.
Then, all of a sudden, you get a question asking your opinion about whether interracial marriage should be legal or illegal. The legality of interracial marriage has not been up for debate in 50 years. The legality of same-sex marriage, however, has been up for debate constantly for the last decade. Now, perhaps you managed to maintain your attention span throughout the call. If so, good for you, you just answered the question in a way that accurately reflects your views or at least your views as you wish to disclose them. But how likely is it that you fully maintained your attention span for this 14th question, really? How likely is it that you heard not “Do you think interracial marriage should be legal or illegal,” but instead something more akin to “do you think blah blah marriage blah blah legal or illegal?” How likely is it that you assume the question is about same-sex marriage? As a conservative Republican, are you going to say same-sex marriage should be legal or illegal?
This kind of mishearing is human, it is normal, and it can be both planned for and planned against. If for some reason the pollster was genuinely curious about what Mississippi Republicans think about interracial marriage even though it hasn’t been up for meaningful debate in 50 years, he could have at least put the question up front, the very first thing that was asked. He did not do this. Instead, he counted on lulling at least some of them into complacency in order to get the highest possible number of respondents to say “illegal.”
Even if only 1 in 5 respondents fell victim to this trap (and I suspect more than that did), the poll results suddenly change to 60% responding “legal” and 26% responding “illegal.” That would still be a depressingly high number, but it would hardly be a headline grabber.
This was a push poll. But it was a push poll aimed at smearing the respondents themselves, not a candidate. It is sad that some have bought into the smear.
*Yes, I just favorably linked RedState. This has not, to my recollection, ever happened before. I expect a plague of locusts to descend upon my neighborhood tonight.