“Should it be illegal for the government to fine you or put you in jail just because you fire an employee who doesn’t fit in with your other employees or who will likely need a lot of time off in the future?”
I’d be willing to bet if you polled the right group of people in Utah, you could easily get 8 out of 10 to agree with that question. But what if we wrote the same question another way?
“Should it be legal for employers to fire people of color for not being white, or women because they might get pregnant?”
Phrased that way, the same 8 out of 10 Utahns would probably saying ‘No way!’
Two polls, same question, different phrasing, opposite outcomes. That’s the danger of junk-polls, that feature questions written in just the right way so as to illicit a predetermined answer and desired outcome.
I saw a great example of a junk-poll earlier this week, when the Libertas Institute (one of two Utah affiliates of Heritage Foundation’s State Policy Network), and their president Connor Boyack, released a “poll” showing roughly 8 out of 10 Utahns saying “no way” to a non-discrimination law—a law being proposed in the Utah Legislature which would make it illegal to fire someone or evict them from their home just because they happen to be gay or transgender.
Like many, I found Boyack’s results shocking, considering multiple other polls have all shown consistent results of Utahns being vastly in favor of such laws (despite the Utah Legislature’s stubborn opposition to passing them). A poll commissioned by Equality Utah (conducted by professional polling firm Dan Jones & Associates) found 73 percent of Utahns in favor of a non-discrimination law. A poll conducted by the Human Rights Campaign found 77 percent in favor. And yet another poll by the Salt Lake Tribune showed 67 percent in favor.
How could three polls show identical results of an overwhelming majority in favor of a non-discrimination law, while Libertas Institute’s poll shows the exact opposite?
Well, the three polls showing massive support all asked roughly the same question: Should it be illegal for employers to fire someone just because they’re gay or transgender?
The poll question from Libertas Institute asked whether respondents supported fines or jail time for employers who choose not to associate with people they disagree with.
As BYU polling expert Quin Monson said in his article shredding Libertas’ poll, “The questions are unbalanced and inaccurate.. The methodology isn’t methodologically sound. .. The survey also also has some serious ethical and legal problems.
Boyack’s questions are pre-designed to fit the outcome he was hoping for, and used deceptive tactics like adding in the threat of jail time for violators—the proposed law in no way proposes jail time—and heavily weighting the sample with older age brackets. We also have no idea who was actually polled or their geographic location. Were they all from Provo?
There’s also the obvious question of bias. The Heritage Foundation’s State Policy Network (which includes both Libertas Institute and Sutherland Institute) has a set policy of opposing non-discrimination laws. Trusting Libertas Institute on non-discrimination laws is akin to trusting John Swallow’s opinion on ethical behavior.
True, Equality Utah has an obvious bias of hoping Utahns will favor of non-discrimination laws. But Equality Utah’s poll was conducted by an independent and reputable polling firm—the results of which were duplicated by the Salt Lake Tribune, again using a professional polling firm.
But let’s boil this all down to brass tacks. Allowing discrimination against hard working Utahns just because of their sexual orientation or gender identity is simply evil. Tens of thousands of LGBT people live in Utah, and half have experienced discrimination. The status of your employment and housing should be about your ability to do your job and pay your rent, nothing more.
Eric Ethington is the former Editor-in-Chief of Utah Political Capitol. He now lives in Boston and works for a social justice think tank. He blogs at NuanceStillMatters.com