Gay Marriage Poll Touted by Mormons Seems Dubious

Contrary to almost every other national poll regarding marriage equality, Deseret News, a newspaper owned by the Mormon Church, claims that two thirds of Americans oppose marriage equality.

When the mouthpiece of the Mormon Church publishes a new poll showing that two thirds of Americans now oppose marriage equality, it raises some questions. One needs to ask who conducted the poll, who was questioned, and whether respondents reflect the demographics of the national population. There is little such information in the article. All it or the attached graphics indicate is that 1,000 randomly chosen adults in 50 states were surveyed.

Did these people represent groups proportionally, or, as in a previous National Organization for Marriage poll, was it skewed toward older respondents? Deseret News doesn't say, nor do they reveal whether respondents reflect the population distribution of the states. For instance, a poll that over-surveys residents of the South will be skewed in one direction, while one that over-surveys residents of the Pacific states and New England would give very different results.

My office contacted the article's author, Micheal DeGroote, for details. He emailed, "The demographics are pretty standard for a national poll -- and I'm sure if you contacted Mr. Lawrence at Lawrence Research you could see the polling methodology was fine." DeGroote said the sticky point with critics would be the questions, not the demographics. I beg to differ.

Pollster Gary Lawrence responded to DeGroote's email by suggesting that I buy his book on Mormonism instead. He offered no information as to the demographics of his survey. For all I know, 90 percent of them were from Utah and 10 percent from the rest of the country. Without this information, the poll is valueless, except as political propaganda.

Besides omitting critical demographic data, other important information was left out, as well. For instance, who is Gary Lawrence?

Latter-Day Commentary describes him as an "LDS, Republican, conservative hawk" who was the "state LDS grassroots director for the Protect Marriage coalition. Brother Lawrence, who has served as a bishop has spent over 35 years studying opinions and behaviors of the American public."

In other words, this "pollster" was an official in the campaign that stripped same-sex Californians of their legal right to marry. Deseret News didn't see fit to report that Lawrence was not an unbiased pollster but rather a political propagandist for the Prop 8 campaign.

The Salt Lake Tribune, a paper not owned by the Mormon Church, reported that Lawrence was a key player in the Mormon-led anti-gay campaign. Lawrence, the paper wrote, "compared opponents of Prop 8 to those who sided with Lucifer against Jesus in the pre-mortal existence." (Pre-mortal existence is one of the Mormon doctrines that mainstream Christians reject.)

That comparison caused Lawrence's own son, Matthew, to resign from the Mormon Church and stop communications with his own family. Matthew said, "We can all agree to disagree and respect each other's informed opinions and decisions, but don't put me and Satan in the same sentence please."

As an organizer in the Prop 8 campaign, Lawrence told Mormons "to bear the price of printing various materials" themselves. If only 5,000 Mormons in the state spent $500 each on printing Prop 8 literature, that would hide an additional $2,500,000 in Mormon contributions. Mormon leaders told members to donate directly to the campaign, and various estimates of Mormon funding indicate that somewhere between 40 and 70 percent of all donations were made by Mormons, who are about 1 percent of the population. The Church also spent close to $200,000 on the campaign but reported their donations only after the election, contrary to state law.

Lawrence is a political propagandist who earned a pretty penny peddling anti-gay polls. He is also being paid by NOM and the right-wing Minnesota Family Council to produce poll results on their behalf. Minnesota Independent reported that "the groups touting the survey are remaining mum about the poll's details." Lawrence said that he can't release the data "purchased by an outside group." At least he didn't suggest they fork out $29.50 for his book on how Mormons can "improve their image, and spread the gospel."

I have a "confidential" copy of Lawrence's poll report that contains over 100 questions (located in full below). What is missing are details concerning respondent demographics. There is no information as to where these people live and whether they reflect the population of the country as a whole. Most of the questions are about how people perceive Mormons, with an emphasis on whether they would elect a Mormon as president. The questions ask about theology, as well, with questions on gay marriage wedged between gems such as, "If God held a televised news conference, would you watch it?" (Eleven percent would not -- probably because it would be aired on Fox.)

What demographic information is found indicates that this was not a representative sampling. For instance, 55 percent of Americans have some college education, but only 28 percent of respondents in the Lawrence survey do. Almost 40 percent of Americans aged 25 and over have a Bachelor's degree or Associate's degree; only 18 percent of the Lawrence respondents are college graduates. Reputable polls have consistently shown that the less education people have, the more anti-gay they tend to be.

An extensive poll by Gallup found that 39.8 percent of all Americans consider themselves conservative. According to data point #114 in the Lawrence poll, conservatives made up 51 percent of those surveyed (19 percent very conservative, 32 percent somewhat conservative).

Lawrence's poll doesn't reflect religious demographics, either. A Public Religion Research Institute survey found that "[n]early three-quarters of Catholics favor either allowing gay and lesbian people to marry (43%) or allowing them to form civil unions (31%). Only 22% of Catholics say there should be no legal recognition of a gay couple's relationship." The American Religious Identification Survey says the percentage of Catholics is 25 percent, but only 16 percent of those surveyed by Lawrence were Catholic.

Anti-gay evangelicals, on the other hand, were over-represented. According to Pew Forum, 26.3 percent of the public are members of evangelical churches, while 36 percent of respondents in the Lawrence poll were. Jewish respondents, who tend to be more pro-equality, were under-represented by half. Presbyterians, more supportive of gay rights than average, were 1 percent in the Lawrence survey, but ARIS says they are 2 percent of the population. Adherents to the anti-gay Assemblies of God were twice as prevalent in the Lawrence survey as in the population. Whereas ARIS says that membership in the fundamentalist Church of God is 0.3 percent of all Americans, Lawrence says that 2 percent of his respondents were members. Mormons make up just over 1 percent of the population, but 2 percent in the Lawrence survey. An over-representation of one percent is not significant unless repeated multiple times.

The ARIS survey says that 69.5 percent of Americans believe in a personal god, but 88 percent of respondents in the Lawrence survey do.

Other problems with the Lawrence poll include church attendance and age. In the Lawrence poll, 29 percent of respondents rarely or never attend church. Gallup says that 45 percent of Americans actually fit into this group. The Lawrence survey over-polls demographics more likely to be anti-gay, while under-polling those more likely to support equality of rights.

According to the U.S. Census, 72 percent of Americans are white, but 78 percent of Lawrence respondents are. He under-surveyed blacks, Latinos and Asians. Similarly, while Lawrence's "confidential" report indicates that 15 percent of respondents were age 55 to 64, their actual percentage in the population is much less: 8.6 percent. Only 12.4 percent of Americans are older than 65, but 17 percent of the participants in the Lawrence survey are.

These demographics indicate consistent bias in the Lawrence survey in a manner that distorts results in favor of political positions that Lawrence was well paid to promote.

Read the full copy of Lawrence's poll report: