April 5, 2009

Statistics and Reasoning

Justin Katz

At Rhody's suggestion in the comments to my post on the Iowa same-sex marriage decision, I took a look at Nate Silver's statistical assessment of the likelihood that Iowans will revoke the decision via constitutional amendment:

I looked at the 30 instances in which a state has attempted to pass a constitutional ban on gay marriage by voter initiative. The list includes Arizona twice, which voted on different versions of such an amendment in 2006 and 2008, and excludes Hawaii, which voted to permit the legislature to ban gay marriage but did not actually alter the state's constitution. I then built a regression model that looked at a series of political and demographic variables in each of these states and attempted to predict the percentage of the vote that the marriage ban would receive. ...

So what does this mean for Iowa? The state has roughly average levels of religiosity, including a fair number of white evangelicals, and the model predicts that if Iowans voted on a marriage ban today, it would pass with 56.0 percent of the vote. By 2012, however, the model projects a toss-up: 50.4 percent of Iowans voting to approve the ban, and 49.6 percent opposed. In 2013 and all subsequent years, the model thinks the marriage ban would fail.

The problem is that models don't think; they take what we put in. So, on one hand, the reality of same-sex marriages coming and going may soften Iowans' views. On the other hand, the Supreme Court of Iowa has just proven that statutory language is insufficient. People rightly seek the least extreme (and least difficult) method of accomplishing their goals, and if one's goal is to preserve the traditional definition of marriage, nothing within reach of the judiciary is now adequate.

To we who've been arguing this topic for years, that reality has been clear from the start, but it's been a core strategy of homosexual advocates (and progressives more generally) to limit expectations about the next step. Civil unions would never lead to same-sex marriage. Same-sex marriage in Massachusetts would never be exported to other states. And so on.

I wouldn't presume to make predictions, but it's going to be more difficult for SSM rhetoricians to insist that leveraging state (and federal) constitutions is overkill.

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I don't know what you mean about limiting expectations. I think it's been pretty clear that SSM proponents (or "homosexual advocates" in your 1950's-style language; which I suppose makes you a "homosexual opponent") want civil marriage rights generally speaking. That SSM proponents made tactical decisions to settle for less at certain places at certain times was a function of political reality.

By the way, Justin, do you recognize the second (and third and fourth) marriages of your divorced neighbors? With all of this fuss about SSM, I guess I missed your (and your church's) efforts at restoring the definition of marriage back to its original meaning by repealing divorce laws.

After all, divorce among straights is far more common than marriage among gays. Surely, this is an issue that strikes at the core of the notion of traditional marriage. Not to mention the fact that your good book is quite clear about the evils of remarriage.

But, oh, I suppose that one might be a bit too provocative for you, huh? Yes. Better to stick to protecting us from the gay agenda. Yes, much easier target.

Posted by: Pragmatist at April 6, 2009 10:08 AM

It isn't my (or my Church's) objective to force secular law into complete alignment with my religious views. Odd that I'm the religious one, but you're the one who thinks religious people should force their views wholly into the law. (Or perhaps you're just incapable of more nuanced thinking.)

I have, however, argued for reform of divorce laws in order to strengthen marriage, and among the deleterious effects of same-sex marriage is that it will set a firewall against such reforms by codifying into law the principle that marriage is solely about adult affections.

Posted by: Justin Katz at April 6, 2009 10:16 AM

The link and its statistical model may well be a hoax.

Where's the guy's statistical evidence? If this was sound he'd make his model and the evidence available online -- rather than just his commentary.

Posted by: Chairm at April 6, 2009 10:57 AM

I think his 2 percent a year figure is a little optimistic myself, but there is definitely movement toward acceptance of gay marriage, and his emphasis on white evangelicals and older voters in his methodology seems to be right on.
Look at California - the anti-SSM measure got 61 percent of the vote in 2000, and only 52 percent eight years later. Also, an anti-SMM measure actually failed in Arizona in '06 - it only passed last year after being considerably watered down.
Silver does make the disclaimer that unforseen events could speed up, slow down or reverse the trend. The one trend I could see reversing gay marriage acceptance is a renewed gangsta rap boom - the one issue where the Gs and evangelicals line up on the same side.
But with even younger conservatives embracing the idea of gay marriage (or downplaying it as an issue), time is on SSM's side.
And if one state that has passed a constutiional amendment (Alaska? Oregon?) reverses course, game over.

Posted by: rhody at April 6, 2009 12:49 PM

Justin, with all of the time that the right has devoted to the anti-gay cause, you would think that the right would devote 10x that effort to divorce reform. After all, no-fault divorce is far more prevalent.

But in fact the right has done no such thing (other than, of course, your "arguing" for it somewhere out in the blogosphere). Because the nasty truth is that you are not really all that interested in strengthening marriage; you just want to stop gays from marrying.

What other explanation is there for the disparity between the efforts at reforming divorce laws and preventing SSM?

Given no-fault divorce and the radical changes to marriage brought about by the womens' rights movement, your bronze age characterization of marriage has not been a reality for a very long time.

Posted by: Pragmatist at April 6, 2009 7:14 PM

The right is on the defensive on this, Pragmatist. You may not care to pay attention to them, and the mainstream media is loath to promote their causes when the issue isn't of immediate interest, but there are conservatives who've remained devoted to divorce reform. Understandably, their work was much more divorce-targeted before the radicals began their big push for same-sex marriage. It's worth restating: They began it.

Of course, I can only speak for myself, and I've repeatedly suggested that the calculation on the right might change if SSM advocates were to couple their cause with a push for tighter restrictions on divorce. It tells you something about their motivation, I think, that nobody with whom I'm discussing the matter — even if they profess to be making the "conservative case for gay marriage" — seems inclined to consider it.

As for my view of marriage, you're simply wrong. People do still expect married couples to have children, and almost all of them ultimately do. That may not be the case in the feverish delusions of progressives, but it is the living, breathing reality of marriage in America.

Posted by: Justin Katz at April 6, 2009 7:26 PM

I just think it's interesting that some of the biggest opponents of SSM have, well, checkered marital pasts. Look at Newt Gingrich's matrimonial record. Or Rush Limbaugh's. And Bob Barr, the godfather of anti-SSM constitutional amendments...how many wives is he on now, anyway?

Posted by: rhody at April 6, 2009 8:36 PM

You commit a categorical error: The people whom you list aren't "the biggest opponents of SSM." They've prominent people who oppose SSM, and the rich-'n'-famous set is notable for its high incidence of checkered marital pasts. (Bob Barr's recanted, by the way.)

Be that as it may, it's irrelevant to the issue itself.

Posted by: Justin Katz at April 6, 2009 8:42 PM

--"definitely movement toward acceptance of gay marriage"

Rhody, have you seen his statistical evidence? It ought to be made available and, if not, you should not place so much credence in his conclusions.

* * *

Maybe but it is in inches not miles. There are signs of issue fatigue, hence the supposed middle ground of "civil union". But with each pro-SSM court opinion, that option becomes increasingly discredited.

There is a general "live and let live" attitude that is being undermined by the SSM campaign's motto of "by any means".

In Iowa recent opinion surveys indicate that support for a marriage amendment actually increases when a court imposition of SSM is factored into the questionaire.

In California the No side had a huge lead -- it looked insurmountable -- at the outset. The difference between the 61% of 2000 and the 52% of 2008 can largely be chalked up to the AG's rewrite of Prop 8's title and description. So even with the advantages the pro-SSM enjoyed, they lost.

In marriage amendment votes, about 2/3rds of the states have affirmed the man-woman criterion of marriage. So that leaves about 1/3rd where they have either been denied such a vote due to procedural obstructions -- especially in the Northeast -- or where supporters of marriage were lulled into a false sense of security because of clear statutes and the like. In other words, the pro-SSM courtcentric approach has been digging away while people in pro-marriage states have thought their state constitutions were already sufficiently capable of restraining their judiciaries.

The Iowa case changes that drastically. Iowa was targeted because it is so difficult to amend the state constitution there. The SSMers often said that there was no need for an amendment -- that it would be unnecessary -- and some marriage defenders believed that too.

Just as "civil union" was undermined as a sustainable compromise in California, the idea of trusting the judiciary has been undermined in Iowa.

All along this SSM stuff has been about abolishing the special status of marriage. Again, the goings on in California demonstrate that SSMers are very prepared to abolish marriage in favor of recognition of some other thing. They also showed themselves ready to discard the very premise of constitutional republicanism -- the highest law enacted by the will of the governed.

So all along, too, the issue has been about the principles of good governance.

At every step -- including Massachusetts -- both marriage and good governance have been attacked by the SSM campaign.

Yet, it is true, that issue fatigue has smothered The People in some states where the gay activists have concentrated their efforts to villify any who disagree with their form of identity politics.

To Pragmatist: SSM took all the oxygen out of the air. Divorce reform was top of agenda before this pro-SSM nonsense took off. Indeed, about a decade ago we finally achieved a wide and deep consensus on the harm done by the non-fault divorce changes. SSM argumentation keeps touting the decline of the social instiution as a reason to lock-in that decline through the imposition of SSM.

When I ask SSMers, what is the core meaning of "marriage" they don't have much of an answer. It usually boils down to "commitment". But commitment to WHAT? The answer is silence. Hence, I agree with Justin, SSMers are not truly interested in reform of divorce laws. Their talking point on divorce is just a rhetorical ploy and not a substantive concern. Indeed, such reform contradicts SSM arugmentation itself.

Posted by: Chairm at April 7, 2009 2:02 AM


As for SSM proponents wedding their cause to divorce reform -- why the hell would they affiliate their already-difficult task to a complete political loser?

Sure, a few diehard hardcore theocrats would offer a smattering of applause, but the rest of humanity would say "thanks, but we like our divorce laws exactly how they are." If I'm picking a political ally, I don't pick the cause that alienates 50% of the adult population.

Posted by: Pragmatist at April 7, 2009 7:51 PM

Right, so your complaint about a supposed lack of attention on divorce was just another pointless dodge of the actual disagreement on marriage.

Posted by: Chairm at April 7, 2009 8:05 PM

Well, there we go. Part of my complaint is of the pursuit of SSM at any cost. And the allies that a movement courts certainly reveals something about its intentions and, therefore, the likely outcome of their victory.

Posted by: Justin Katz at April 7, 2009 8:14 PM

Vermont didn't need no stinkin' activist judges.
But then again, those Iowa judges weren't put on the bench by Left Coast or Northeast liberal politicians, either. That's the beauty of it.

Posted by: rhody at April 9, 2009 12:42 AM

1. Vermont's Supreme Court intervened when it "ordered" the Legislative Branch to enact the localized merger of gay union and marriage -- in all but name. If not for that judicial over-reach, there'd be no such merger in that state -- now it is in name as well.

2. The Iowa Supreme Court intervened with a political decision, not a judicial decision, and the pro-SSM opinion displayed the basic policy arguments that were on display in the Vermont Legislature. That is to say, a profoundly flawed set of arguments that continue to fail to disinguish marriage from nonmarriage.

So, Rhody, can you identify in the law in either state the essentials, the core of "marriage", as directly expressed in the legal requirements that define that core and those essentials?

Then tell me how you'd distinguish it from the rest of the nonmarital arrangements and nonmarital types of relationships.

You wouldn't rely on arbitrary power of Government, right? Whether that be a legislature or a judiciary, right?

See, I think the beauty of the pro-SSM campaign is only in the eye of the proponents of gay identity politics. For the rest of society there is nothing at the core of SSM EXCEPT gay identity politics. Both the example of the Vermont Legislature and the example of the Iowa Court's pro-SSM opinion, have demonstrated this beyond doubt.

Perhaps you can demonstrate otherwise, but I doubt it given your various comments on this subject at this blogsite.


Posted by: Chairm at April 9, 2009 6:31 PM

Nate Silver has not responded to requests that he put his statistical evidence online.

That is odd because on other topics the evidence is usually displayed in graphs and tables and so forth. The analysis and the evidence are not to be trusted on the word of a biased (i.e. pro-SSM) blogger, I don't think.

Maybe Nate plans to reveal his evidence soon and just has not got round to responding to the requests. Keep an eye on this. If he fails to show the evidence, then, watch for the meme becomes embedded in pro-SSM propaganda as indisuptable assertion.

It is a prediction but one touted as being based on more than guesswork and wishful thinking. Lacking "more", it lacks credibility.

Posted by: Chairm at April 9, 2009 6:42 PM
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