The Center For Military Readiness (CMR) has released a survey on Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell that contradicts the existing data on whether or not Americans support repealing the ban against gays and lesbians in the military. In contrast to other polls which have found that some 78% of voters think openly gay or homosexual should “be allowed to serve,” this poll concluded that “the largest group of respondents – 48 percent – opposes repealing the 1993 law. Forty-five percent favored repealing Don’t Ask.” Here are its main findings:
– When two statements from the 1993 law were presented verbatim, 92% agreed – including 77% strongly – that “the primary purpose of the armed forces is to prepare for and to prevail in combat should the need arise.”
– A plurality of voters wanted Congress to give deference to the four chiefs of staff of the Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marine Corps.
– Likely voters opposed the imposition of career penalties on military personnel and chaplains who do not support homosexuality in the military.
This afternoon, I asked Tommy Sears, executive director of CMR about why his results were so different from other, more mainstream findings. Our 15 minute conversation only reaffirmed the notion that the poll was results determinative, designed to confuse Senators about the state of public opinion as they prepare to vote for the Defense Authorization bill.
For instance, Sears admitted that the group chose to frame the question about support for DADT in terms of the status quo (i.e. do you support changing the policy vs. are you okay with gays serving openly in the military) to counter what he described as “a pre-orchestrated campaign on the part of advocacy groups and media outlets over the last 17 years.” Sears argued that these groups have successfully confused voters, so that “people probably have been working under the assumption that homosexuals are eligible for the military and they are not.” Working to unravel these assumptions, the group asked voters if they would support changing the existing policy (seemingly) after the questions about the “primary purpose of the armed force,” penalties for those who disagree, and issue priority, thus creating an order bias against ending the ban and suggesting that the status quo would advance the needs of the institution.
“I think the questions are pretty straight forward and speak for themselves,” Sears said repeatedly when I asked him about obvious bias in the “deference” towards the military question. The group gave voters two options for who Congress should listen to when considering repealing DADT: 1) “advocates who want to overturn the law and to require the armed forces to accept professed lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender persons in the military” and 2) “to the four chiefs of staff of the Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marine Corps, who have expressed concerns about overturning the current law.” But as Sears himself explained, to the unsuspecting voter, the “four chiefs” detail is too nuanced (option 1 also ignores the fact that gays and lesbians are already serving in the ranks and that the regulations surrounding transgender people would reamin in place). The real choice is between “whether gay activists should be the deciding factor or military leadership.” This way, the survey purposely omits the fact that prominent military leaders — like Secretary of State Robert Gates and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Admiral Mike Mullen — favor repealing the ban and presents the military as monolithically supportive of the status quo. “There is a difference of opinion among the military leadership at this time, certainly between Admiral Mullen and the Chiefs, I certainly concede that,” he told me.
Still, the most troubling result found that “52% majority of respondents opposed career penalties that would discriminate against persons who do not support homosexuality in the military.” This question seemed particularly manipulative, since the idea of punishing individuals who oppose gay people has been used as a straw man to generate fear among the electorate and lacked a rational basis. I asked Sears about the probability of instituting the policy. “I have as yet to hear anyone in the government state that position and we would certainly take a strong position against that as an organization,” he admitted. “But what’s being proposed by advocates of repeal is that sort of policy.”
Despite his concessions, Sears still stood by the impartiality of his survey. “We’re not leading people anywhere,” he told me. “The questions were specifically constructed out of language that is in the law and using the same language that advocates of repeal of the law have used in their own arguments and we got the results we got.”