A comprehensive analysis of pre-election polling data from 33 states that passed anti-gay marriage initiatives has found that pro and anti marriage equality campaigns have wasted millions of dollars trying to change the minds of voters during short-term campaign seasons. As it turns out, public opinion “typically changed very little over the course of the campaigns”:
“This research underscores what many of us have learned through personal experience,” noted Thalia Zepatos, Director of Public Engagement for Freedom to Marry. “There is no 30-second political ad that can replace thoughtful conversations that committed gay and lesbian people have about marriage with their neighbors at a barbecue, with family members over holiday dinner, and with colleagues at work and at school. Smart public education- outside of intense political battles – that tells the stories of how millions of Americans are harmed by being denied the freedom to marry have resulted in 17% increase in Gallup Poll support for the freedom to marry between 1996 and 2010.”.”
Indeed, the point here seems to be that gay people interacting and building strong relationships with other communities is far more effective for advancing the cause of equal rights than 30-second ads or fliers. Nationally, increased acceptance of gay people has corresponded with the growing number of Americans who now say they personally know a gay person. For instance, a CBS News Poll released earlier this month found that 77% of Americans “say they know someone who is gay or lesbian,” an increase of 35 percentage points since 1992. Simultaneously, only 43% of Americans currently see homosexual relations between consenting adults as “wrong” – a drop of 19 percentage points from a Gallup poll taken in 1978:
All of this may be a condemnation of existing messaging techniques, but it’s also a mixed bag. Gay advocates will have to make some long term investments in actually knowing people, instead of simply pressuring them to vote one way or another. Some of this may occur naturally, as the visibility of gay people increases in politics, the media, and every day interactions, but other campaigns will have to reach-out to people outside the battle zones where the anti-gay marriage ads are no more effective than the marriage equality spots. The other side, meanwhile, will have to force Americans to form long-term relationships with bigots. Good luck with that.