The equal marriage survey

A few thoughts on the equal marriage survey, now that it’s going ahead.

First up, there’s virtually no time left for campaigning. Supposedly, the papers will start arriving on Tuesday. Unless the ABS is deliberately taking its time, most voters will presumably have them by the end of next week. Perhaps some people will want to wait and hear all the arguments, but I’d guess the vast majority will either return the survey papers quickly or bin them and forget about the whole thing. So, it seems likely that not many people will change their minds.

Second, despite all the fears that have been expressed, it seems pretty certain that the majority of survey respondents will support equal marriage. The big risk was that the pro-equality vote would be split by a boycott, but that’s obviously not going to happen. On the contrary, lots of Yes voters have signed up. That in turn suggests that there’s not much chance of the massive difference in response rates that would be needed to get an outcome radically different from the actual balance of public opinion.

Third, if the campaign does shift opinions, it’s unlikely to help the No vote. So far, no one on that side ahs been willing to address the substance of the issue, implicitly conceding that they have no argument against equal marriage. Instead it’s been a bunch of slippery slope arguments, snowflake whining about being called out as bigots, and general culture warfare. That might play well with the Andrew Bolt/Tony Abbott fan club, but its unlikely to sway anyone undecided.

What remains is the risk of “shy Tories”, people who say they’ll support equal marriage when surveyed in a standard opinion poll but will go the opposite way when surveyed by the ABS. This is always a possibility, but I can’t see it.

Assuming a “Yes” majority, the main question of interest will be how many rightwingers oppose the outcome of the process they’ve worked so hard to bring about.

57 thoughts on “The equal marriage survey

  1. @Tim Macknay
    I agree that it’s not certain that a Yes majority will result in legislation before the end of the year, or even before the next election. I can imagine hypothetical scenarios where Yes comes out ahead of No but legislation still doesn’t happen. But they are very low probability scenarios, and much lower probability than the scenarios where No comes out ahead of Yes and then legislation doesn’t happen.

    There’s significant scope for people (if so motivated) to get into debates about what’s a high participation rate and what’s a low participation rate, and also about what’s a large margin of victory and what’s a small margin of victory (not just in this particular instance but more generally). In contrast, two things for which there very widely shared understandings and minimal opportunity for debate (not none, but minimal) are the difference between winning a vote and losing a vote and the difference between Yes and No. Therefore, it is reasonable to project a likely clear difference (not certain, but likely) between what happens next in the case of Yes beating No in the vote and what happens next in the case of No beating Yes in the vote; I don’t say definitely that the participation rate will make no difference, but it’s a much harder thing to be sure of.

  2. @J-D

    It being very unlikely in my view that a low participation rate will ensue in practice, and equally, that ‘No’ will attract more than 30% much of this discussion is probably moot. As is mostly the case in practice on significant issues, I’m one of a tiny minority. Although it would be disingenuous to say I was fine with this, I have learned a sort world-weary dissonance over the years. My challenge has been to avoid personal responsibility or participation in what is indefensible.

    While I certainly could be wrong, my impression is that those most exercised by this issue in the LGBTQI community don’t attach much weight to whether this change cones by Christmas or in the wake of an electoral debacle for the Coalition, possibly this year but perhaps in late 2019.

    What will probably occur is a resounding ‘win’ for Yes in the survey followed by those wanting to avoid voting no publicly in parliament being absent from the vote and it being carried easily.

    That will give the Coalition little respite from the infighting anyway, but at least remove one thorny issue for them, with cover.

  3. @Fran Barlow

    As is mostly the case in practice on significant issues, I’m one of a tiny minority.

    I tend to think I am too (although not, I expect, the same tiny minorities as you on all the same issues).

    My challenge has been to avoid personal responsibility

    Yes, I feel as if I grasped that from the beginning.

    The point I have been trying to make is this: for people who imagine their actions affecting the outcome, and who want marriage equality to happen, and to happen as soon as possible, the argument for voting Yes is overwhelming. But I fully acknowledge that some people don’t imagine their actions affecting the outcome (as, for example, you don’t), and for them this argument doesn’t apply.

    My general tendency is to approach voting as if it’s possible that my vote will make a difference to the outcome, and I think that’s true for a lot of people, but I am nevertheless well aware that the probability of my single vote making a difference, although non-zero, is minuscule. For people who don’t imagine their actions affecting the outcome, there are other ways to justify a decision about whether or how to vote, justifications independent of the outcome of the vote (and I don’t mean just in this case, but in general).

  4. @J-D

    My view is focused here much more on the process, and my part in it rather than the principal outcome. I assume that if I had participated, it would have been counted and then I’d be numbered amongst those who believed they had standing to evaluate the humanity of that community. Implicitly at least, I’d have been assumed to have treated the exercise as legitimate.

    Whether my contribution would have made a practical difference is not somethng I ever weigh. Voting, or in this case, completing a survey, is purely symbolic. It has the approximate status of writing a letter — though here designed for functional efficiency. Yet symbolic acts must be ethically robust, IMO, while practical and prosaic acts get the benefit of a right of ethical imprecision.

  5. @Fran Barlow

    My view is focused here much more on the process, and my part in it rather than the principal outcome.

    I hope it’s clear that that was what I thought.

    Whether my contribution would have made a practical difference is not somethng I ever weigh

    Again, I hope it’s clear that that’s what I thought.

    Voting, or in this case, completing a survey, is purely symbolic.

    I understand that’s how you view it, but surely you must be aware that there are people who take a different view?

  6. @J-D

    Voting, or in this case, completing a survey, is purely symbolic.

    I understand that’s how you view it, but surely you must be aware that there are people who take a different view?

    I do, but I find that view so lacking in foundation that I am inclined to pass over it lightly. After disasters people often say ‘pray for {place of disaster}’ and this too seems at best purely symbolic solidarity, if not an exercise in misdirection, but it’s hard to deal seriously with anyone who thinks this makes a fly speck’s worth of difference to anything that would not have been achieved by sending them secular best wishes, or advocating specific assistance.

    As our current system is configured — the governing parties takng little account of public sentiment in most areas of policy and privileging a comparative handful of talking heads — voting is at best a muted and distorted message to folk who give priority to the privileged.

    You’re not really voting for anything specific — more a set of sentiments that have been through the cultural meat-grinder and been processed enough to avert all threat to established interests.

    There are alternatives of course, but the people in charge like the current rules be ause clearly, they serve them well.

    Accordingly, as things stand, you vote to express aspirations that exist principally in your own mind, and hope that some portion of that is reflected in public policy or that people whose aspirstions you hate are denied.

    Most of the time though, the same kinds of folk win and so in practice you might not have bothered, save that there was somebody who provided a much clearer symbolic summary of your aspiration.

  7. @Fran Barlow

    That is so true and well expressed. I’d like to focus on your words “There are alternatives of course.” There needs to be more debate on the real alternatives and how we could there. Any time you feel inspired to make a larger post in the Sandpit please do. I for one would read it with interest.

    As you go on to say ” the people in charge like the current rules because clearly, they serve them well.” This seems to sum it up. There are now only pretenses at changing anything. Clearly, our political class, and those they are beholden too, do not want to change anything. The game is working exactly how they want it to work. They are not serious about changing a single thing… unless it is about paying workers even less and charging them more and more for everything.

    The question is how do the majority take back power from the corporate and political classes?

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