Mickey Kaus thinks he sees bad news for President Obama in a Gallup poll about gay marriage. Whereas only 13 percent of those polled say Obama's support for gay marriage will make them more likely to vote for him, 26 percent say it will make them less likely to vote for him.
I have a different takeaway from this poll. I think it shows that these kinds of polls aren't worth much.
Do you notice anything odd about the numbers below?
To me what stands out is that 52 percent of Republicans said Obama's support for gay marriage would make them less likely to vote for him. Now, do you really think that 52 percent of Republicans had a greater than zero percent chance of voting for Obama in the first place? Me either. And if the chances of your voting for Obama are zero, how can his position on gay marriage reduce them? Apparently a non-trivial fraction of the people polled aren't really answering the question that was asked.
What question are they answering? My theory is that the question that, when it left the pollster's lips, was "Does this make you less likely to vote for Obama?" enters the respondent's head as "Does this make you like Obama even less than you liked him before?"
In other words: to some extent what this poll measures isn't "likelihood that Obama's new position will change your vote" but "intensity of your reaction to Obama's new position."