Friday, February 12, 2010

Poll: Serving openly in the U.S. military

Yesterday, CBS released a poll done by CBS/New York Times that showed that it mattered to Americans whether it was okay for "homosexuals" or for "gay men and lesbians" to serve in the military.

Not only that, but the percentage numbers also changed when the favor/oppose options were more limited:

So with the four-option poll, 59% of Americans polled somewhat favored or strongly favored "homosexuals" serving the military. This number was only 44% when there were only two options given.

When the wording was for allowing "gay men and lesbians" to serve openly, the four-option poll saw 70% of respondents somewhat favoring or strongly favoring such allowing, while the two-option poll saw only 58% supporting openly serving.

Therefore, we see support for gays and lesbians serving in the military dropping when the term "homosexuals" is used and when two answer options are given instead of four.

On the one hand, this shouldn't really be too big of an issue because the "in favor" side is far outnumbering the "in opposition" side on three of the four accounts. The outlier here is the two-option "homosexual" case, where the side "in favor" is only 2 percentage points higher than the "in opposition" side. The margin of error in these polls is plus or minus 3 percentage points (click here for the full PDF report), which means that the the percentage point difference must be at least 6 points higher to be statistically significant
(since if there is only a 6 percentage point difference, the lower percentage number could be 3 points lower than the actual and the higher percentage number could be 3 points higher than the actual, so the actual percentage numbers could be equal in this hypothetical case). Therefore, in the two-option "homosexual" poll, there is a statistical tie between the "in favor" side and the "in opposition" side.

But on the other hand, if official governmental policies thus use the term "homosexuals" rather than "gay men and lesbians" in official wording, there could be some unnecessary antagonism than if the latter phrase was used instead. That is, if we use this CBS/New York Times poll as a basis.

One thing that does not seem have been covered in the CBS article over this poll was the difference in the question asked when the poll had four possible responses and when it had only two possible responses. In the four-response question, the question simply asked what people thought of gay men or lesbians "serving in the military," while in the two-response question, the question concerns whether they should be "allowed to serve openly." If we look at the population of people who are on the fence on this issue, I would say that they are more likely to support gay men and lesbians simply "serving in the military" than they are to allow them to openly serve. This difference is rooted more in an error in the poll question itself, but still, the results comparing the four-response percentages and the two-response percentages could actually be completely fictitious and/or misleading because the differences between those percentage numbers therefore could be solely due to the inclusion of "serving openly" in the latter's question.

Anyway, the point is that the term "homosexual" seems to bring up more opposition than the term "gay men and lesbians." So let's lessen our use of "homosexual" in most situations. Oh, and allow not only GL but also BTQA-identified individuals to serve openly in the U.S. military sooner rather than later (Hurry up with the repeal of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell"!).

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