Democrats support gays in the military but not homosexuals

Elizabeth's picture

File Under: Research methods 101 > Survey Construction > Question wording

Constructing a survey on support for the repeal of "Don't Ask Don't Tell"? Keep this in mind: Democrats in particular are much more likely to support letting gays and lesbians serve openly in the military than they are to support letting homosexuals serve openly.

Dalia Sussman, writing for The Caucus (the politics and government blog of the New York Times) describes a New York Times/CBS News poll which found that 60% of respondents who were asked whether gays and lesbians should be able to serve openly in the military said yes. On the other hand, only 44% of those asked whether homosexuals should be allowed to serve openly agreed that they should. And Sussman says that political orientation mattered a great deal:

Democrats in the poll seemed particularly swayed by the wording. Seventy-nine percent of Democrats said they support permitting gay men and lesbians to serve openly. Fewer Democrats however, just 43 percent, said they were in favor of allowing homosexuals to serve openly. Republicans and independents varied less between the two terms. (Click here for the whole piece.)

The important lesson here? The word "homosexual" carries a pretty negative connotation even for liberal-leaning people who support equal rights for LGBT folks. We all know that survey construction and question wording matter a great deal, but this one took me by surprise. I'm glad to read about the research findings and I suspect we should all pay close attention to the reporting on all these polls and surveys coming out about support or opposition to DADT. The wording definitely matters!