PinkNews, the gay-issues website, has run a poll which suggests that David Cameron’s drive to enact a same-sex marriage bill has raised support for the Conservative Party among lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender voters: up, apparently, from 11 per cent in 2010, to 30 per cent now. It’s interesting, and no doubt extremely encouraging for Dave, but I’d suggest he should wait a little longer before he dons a feather boa and pops down to G.A.Y. to celebrate.
This poll (from what I can understand, looking at the PinkNews story) is in two parts. One part was a self-selecting internet poll, like those on newspaper websites: it is, essentially, little more than polling-as-entertainment. It’ll probably tell you the voting intention of the subset of the population that clicks on polls on PinkNews.co.uk. Claiming you can extrapolate from that to the country at large is, to say the least, something of a stretch.
The other part is more interesting: it’s “the PinkNews voter panel, a selected and demographically weighted group of 864 LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) voters that have been tracked since 2010”. Now, assuming that it really has been appropriately demographically weighted (they don’t seem to publish their methodology, but people who know about these things are sceptical), it’s a little more reliable as an indicator, but it’s still a pretty small sample. Think back to the US election, and the sheer number of polls that were carried out then, sometimes of thousands or tens of thousands of people, and how many of them entirely failed to show the real weighting of the electorate’s voting intentions. On average, the polls did pretty well, but individually they were scattered around either side of the real figure. And they were larger, and, I bet, more methodologically sound in many cases than “the PinkNews panel”. The panel might be right, or it might be wildly wrong in either direction – and since it shows a large and unexpected swing, a good starting point would be to assume it’s overstating the real change.
That’s not definite, of course: this issue is (I believe) important to many gay voters, and Cameron has taken a brave and vocal stance over it. (If the polls are at all accurate, then his own personal rating is especially interesting: 47 per cent of the panel would choose him over Ed Miliband or Nick Clegg for prime minister. But, of course, we don’t know how accurate the poll is.)
Again assuming the panel is representative (but…), there’s some good news for religious conservatives, as well. Eighty-five per cent of the panel “believed that churches and other religious institutions should decide for themselves whether to hold a same-sex marriage”. Fears that the Church will be forced to bless gay marriages, in that case, would be overstated.
Whatever, though. If David Cameron is hoping to be borne aloft through the doors of No10 in 2015 on the shoulders of a grateful army of LGBT voters, he’ll probably be disappointed: even if support has gone up from 11 per cent to 30 per cent, that still only represents a change of about one per cent of the whole electorate (at a generous estimate). There is a possibility that there is a knock-on effect among liberal voters in general, some of whom may view a stance on gay marriage as a sort of litmus test to see if the Conservatives have managed to get up to speed with 21st-century values of tolerance towards sexual and ethnic minorities. But I have no idea what size that effect will be.
However, and I may be tottering on stilts of naivety here, it would be nice to think that in Downing Street, a flunkey has just brought Mr Cameron a printout of the PinkNews story, and Mr Cameron has glanced at it, torn it in half, and said: “Listen chum, I don’t care. I’m not doing this because it’ll give me a poll boost. I’m doing it because it’s RIGHT, goddammit.”
If he added “And truth be told I don’t trust any poll that doesn’t publish its methodology,” then that would be the icing on the implausible cake.