Head or Heart

The Differences Between Australia’s Marriage Equality Voters

The debate on same sex marriage is a complicated affair. On both sides of the divide the views are multidimensional and complicated. Decision are made not just on rational but also emotions.

At Lightspeed we have been on a journey to understand decisions like these. Across a selection of political debates we have been refining questioning techniques and survey designs to try and find the most pertinent means of contextualising and evaluating the debate.

We conducted a survey of over 1000 Australian respondents on our online panel looking for national representation in terms of age and gender. We began by taking a poll of voting intention and what we found was 62% to 38% split in favour of same sex marriage.


The influence of who they were:

Gender was a clear starting point, of the men we spoke to opinion was fairly evenly divided with 53% coming out in support of marriage equality, whereas Women’s support was much stronger with 69% in favour. Age also factored in, with 78% of those under 35 in favour, compared to 59% for those over 35.

Religion is obviously another factor that it could be assumed would play a defining role in the debate. Certainly for those who identified as being of ‘no religion’ there was a clear bias in favour of same sex marriage with 72% support. However somewhat surprisingly of those who identified as Christian (51% of the sample) the divide was actually slightly in favour too with 53% support for same sex marriage. The implication being that while Christian beliefs might factor into the decision, what we saw was a majority who at a surface level do not see a conflict between their faith and the vote.

When it comes to political engagement we see that 76% of those who voted for Labor in the 2016 Election are in support of marriage equality, compared to 52% of those who voted for the Liberals. However when we look at the level of interest in politics across the divide it is less divergent. We do see a lower proportion of people in support of same sex marriage identifying as being ‘very interested’ in politics 14% compared to 23% for those against; and a higher volume saying they are “not interested at all” 20% compared to 10%. Suggesting a slightly more middling level of political engagement from those for compared to those against, however the peak of the distribution of interest is actual slightly higher for those for same sex marriage it’s just more evenly spread across the spectrum.


The difficulty of the decision:

Before expressing how they intended to vote we asked ‘how certain’ they were of how they would vote. What we found was a result in favour of marriage equality. Namely that 83% of those claiming they would vote for marriage equality stating that they were ‘certain’ compared to 73% of those against.

We also then saw a difference in how ‘difficult’ the decision making process had been. With 89% of those in favour of same sex marriage saying ‘not at all’ compared to 78% of those against. Furthermore we saw an indication of more fervour behind the decision of those in favour of same sex marriage as when asked if they thought they ‘would vote’ 76% said they were ‘certain’ they would, compared to just 68% of those against same sex marriage.


The reasoning of the decision:

The next thing to consider is the rational factors and drivers in the decision itself. The difficulty of the decision is a complicated interplay of both rational and emotive factors which we evaluated at a surface level. However we also have the opportunity to divide deeper and more specifically into the expressed rational of decision in search of quantifiable differences.

One way in which we did this was with a series of attitudinal statements designed as litmus tests and overall indicators of some of the most divisive elements of the decision. Interestingly when it came to the political element of the process we saw agreement in the two camps with 70% of those for marriage equality and 74% of those against agreeing that “The plebiscite is not an appropriate way to deal with matters like this”. 81% of those for same sex marriage thought the solution should have been for the government to “have allowed a conscious vote”, and the majority of those against did not disagree actually, they just did not agree as fully with 64% agreement.

We saw a few issues where the convictions of those against marriage equality appeared stronger. For example, when asked if they thought ‘sexual awareness’ did not belong in on the ‘education curriculum’ only 63% of those for marriage equality disagreed, while a large majority of 74% of those against marriage equality agreed. When asked if “children should have a mother and a father” a resounding 96% of those against same sex marriage agreed, while the response from those for same sex marriage was less resounding with only 68% disagreeing.

However, for the majority of issues the response was more vehement from those in support of same sex marriage. When asked if “everyone should have the equal right to marriage” 97% agreed while of those against only 76% disagreed. When asked if they thought “same sex marriage would be unAustralian” 93% of those in favour of same sex marriage disagreed, while 73% of those against agreed. Finally when asked if they thought “Same sex marriage will destroy our communities” 97% of those for marriage equality disagreed while only 68% of those against marriage equality agreed.

The implication here is that when looking at some of the rational factors that can justify and determine the way people choose to vote, across the measures we tested at least, there is a divergence across the two camps. That divergence implies that the justifications on the side against marriage equality may not be as convincing, or believed as strongly by those disposed that way, as those on the side for marriage equality.

Both sides wrote extensively on their thoughts, however the side against wrote slightly more extensively. On average those for same sex marriage expressed their reasons in 21 words, while those against wrote 29. Implying either a more impassioned response or perhaps more need for justification. Regardless, the differences obviously went beyond just how much was said, and onto the language itself and lexicon of the debate.

Voters for were focused mostly on positives, some of the most common words were ‘love’, ‘family’ and ‘care’. The language was focused on ideas of equality and letting people live their lives as they desire. Statements such as, “all people deserve the right to marry the person who they love”, were common.

For those against the language was weightier and pejorative. Two of the most common words were ‘man’ and ‘woman’, and large references to the concepts of ‘union’, ‘couples’, and ‘normal’. ‘Beliefs’ were a common framing, and religion obviously now came to the fore with large volumes of reference to ‘god’ and ‘Christian’. Statements like “as a Christian I believe marriage is between a man and a woman” were not uncommon.


The perceptions:

54% of those against marriage equality think that the media has been ‘quite’ or ‘extremely’ biased, compared to just 21% of those in favour. When asked to classify this bias 70% of those against same sex marriage thinks the media has been biased against their side of the debate, and only 7% think it has been biased in favour of their side of the debate. For those in for marriage equality the picture is less clear. 35% think the media has been biased against their side of the debate, and now there is 22% who think that the media has been biased in their favour.

Clearly there is a strong perception that the media generally is in favour of marriage equality and hence the portrayal is biased against those who oppose it. This is reaffirmed when we ask people to recall which campaigns they have seen advertising for, with 39% claiming to have seen only adverting for marriage equality, compared to 26% claiming to have seen only advertising against it.

Put this together with the an overall perception that those for marriage equality are more likely to win the vote, and you have a situation very similar to the landscape of the US Presidential election of 2016, and the United Kingdom’s referendum on EU membership. You have polling putting things in quite close contention, you have a clear underdog in terms of how people evaluate their chances of success and you have a perception that the media has been biased against that underdog and they have the odds stacked against them.

The result therefore is one that should be predicted with great care as it has the makings of shock result.
As such when viewed in combination we have a landscape which seems to be overestimating the strength of this campaign, and also a perception that the campaign has unfair forces on its side. However the underlying decision making process that voters undertake also appear to be stacked in their favour. Hence unless we have failed to measure a determining factor in how people make their conclusions, the indications of the sum of our research is that the vote will see same sex marriage legalised in Australia.