Catholic Voices is an über organization in the United Kingdom that says their agenda is "putting the Church's case in the public square." This means that Catholic theology ought to be the foundation of public policy. It is a desire to impose Catholic moral views on a nation through the use of government force. When the religious right speaks of the "public square," they are usually talking about state power. Catholic Voices is the Rick Santorum of the United Kingdom. The only real difference is that they wear ugly pullovers instead of sweaters.
Similar to religious-right groups in the United States, Catholic Voices has a dubious opinion poll that allegedly proves that "70% [are] against redefining marriage." Their spokesman, Austen Ivereigh, claimed that their poll shows "that most people support the idea of civil partinerships for gay people while being firm that marriage should remain between a man and a woman."
The problem is that the poll is manipulated. I previously dissected two similar polls in the United States. The Mormon-owned Deseret News promoted one that found that two thirds of Americans opposed marriage equality -- though most others polls show a majority favoring the idea. This poll didn't survey a cross section of the population but concentrated on conservatives, older people, and the less educated. Evangelicals were overly represented, while Catholics, who tend to be more supportive of gay marriage -- those outside the church hierarchy, that is -- were under-sampled.
The National Organization for Marriage pulled a similar stunt in New York, reporting results almost the total inverse of more reputable polls. They selectively polled audiences, as well. For instance, the young are more supportive of marriage equality, but only 7 percent of those NOM surveyed were under age 40. In New York, however, 34 percent of the population is younger than 40. If you bias the survey audience, you can manipulate results to be consistent with any political agenda.
The "poll" from Catholic Voices does a little of this. For instance, their data show that about 21 percent of those surveyed were over the age of 65. However, Index Mundi says that only 16.5 percent of U.K. residents are that old, while Wikipedia has it at 15.7 percent. Either way, older people, who are generally opposed to marriage equality, were given disproportionate influence in the poll, skewing the results in the direction that Catholic Voices wanted.
But even if the survey audience perfectly matched the demographics of the U.K., the poll would still be problematic because of the way the organization manipulated the questioning. Moreover, as you will see, they never asked respondents whether or not they supported marriage equality. Instead they inferred results from a badly worded question that avoided the topic altogether.
Eight years ago Gallup found that a majority of Britons supported equality of marriage. Support, everywhere in the West, has been increasing in the years since. For Catholic Voices' claim to be accurate, the U.K. would have to be the one Western nation that saw a massive erosion of support for marriage rights. That alone should set off warning bells.
Instead of decreasing support, we find that Catholic Voices engaged in a bit of sleight of hand; they asked respondents one question but told the press it was about something very different.
They found that 70 percent of those polled agreed with the statement: "Marriage should continue to be defined as a life-long exclusive commitment between a man and a woman."
Think of how you would respond if asked if you agreed or disagreed. What would disagreeing actually mean? It could mean you disagree with any one, two, or all three of the main components in the sentence. Perhaps you oppose a "life-long" commitment. Maybe you oppose an "exclusive" commitment or disagree with it being between a man and woman. But even advocates of marriage equality support marriage "between a man and woman." They just want to give that right to same-sex couples, too.
To oppose any aspect of this question means disagreeing with all its components. The answers you are forced to give don't allow you to pick and choose. This tactic forces respondents into agreement, by only offering them a package deal.
Most advocates of marriage equality, given that question, would answer in the affirmative. The manipulation comes from making the statement compound instead of simple. Disagreement makes one take a position opposing both life-long and exclusive commitments. Few people want to do that. In fact, many advocates of marriage equality want precisely that kind of marriage for same-sex couples, as well.
Catholic Voices never asked the simple but obvious question: "Do you agree or disagree with the statement: 'Same-sex couples should have the same rights to marriage as opposite-sex couples'?"
Instead, they muddled up the question in order to drive the percentages as high as possible. Though the question never mentions same-sex couples or their marriage rights, Catholic Voices claims that the 70-percent support level proves there is little support for marriage equality.
There are numerous ways that groups with political agendas can manipulate public opinion polls. Skewing the audience, which both the NOM poll and the Mormon poll did, is one method. Manipulating the question to force specific answers is another; that is what Catholic Voices did. Simply put, their press release describes a poll that they didn't take. The reason for this is simple: the Conservative government of the U.K. has announced that it will push for marriage rights for gay couples, and the Catholic Church is determined to stop it. Sadly, this is not the first time that religious groups have resorted to deception in this debate -- nor will it be the last.