Monday, February 15, 2010

Are Americans Really This Easy to Manipulate?

With my background in public opinion polling, I knew that a poll could be influenced by how questions are worded and ordered, but the extent of this difference surprised me.

SafeZoneStopSign A fascinating new CBS/New York Times poll reveals that attitudes about gays and lesbians serving in the military turn on how the question is asked. It turns out that 42% of Americans oppose allowing "homosexuals" to serve openly in the military, but only 28% oppose allowing "gay men and lesbians" to serve openly. Conversely, 58% of Americans favor allowing "gay men and lesbians" to serve openly in the military, but only 42% favor allowing "homosexuals" to serve openly. Apparently, some 15% of Americans don't know that "gay men and lesbians" are "homosexuals."

It's possible, of course, that those 15% are drawing a sharp distinction between sexual orientation and sexual conduct. On this view, "gay men and lesbians" are only inclined toward homosexual conduct, whereas "homosexuals" actually "do it." But this gives the befuddled 15% more credit than they're due. The subtlety of this distinction is not captured in any common definitions of the terms, both of which are generally held to embrace both same-sex attraction and same-sex conduct.

A more logical explanation has to do with the emotional connotations of the respective terms. "Homosexual" conjures up dark visions of filthy bodily acts that arouse deeply-rooted feelings of disgust and ancient fears of Sodom and Gomorrah and hell and damnation. "Gay men and lesbians," on the other hand, increasingly reminds us of people we know -- sons and daughters, cousins and classmates, nieces and nephews, coworkers and neighbors. It would appear that 15% of Americans cannot stomach the thought of homosexuals, but can tolerate and even try to understand gays and lesbians…

homo …So, what's in a name? Does a rose by any other name smell as sweet? Is "colored" the same as African-American? Is "spic" the same as Hispanic, "dago" the same as Italian-American, "hymie" the same as Jew, "redskin" the same as Native-American, "mick" the same as Irish-American? Do words affect beliefs and politics?

What this poll leads me to think is that the word "homosexual," though once thought to be a neutral term like "colored" or "crippled" or "retarded," should now slip out of our responsible public discourse. For 15% of Americans -- or some forty million of us -- the very use of this word apparently triggers deeply emotional and hostile responses, responses that apparently can be softened or even avoided entirely simply by substituting the less fearsome phrase "gay men or lesbians."

When we hear religious leaders or politicians referring to "homosexuals in the military," "homosexual marriage," or "special rights for homosexuals," we must recognize what they are doing. Especially for the 15% of Americans who react so viscerally to the term "homosexual," they are trying to chew their way into the worst parts of our psyches in order to manipulate our beliefs and values and make us worse people than we really are… [emphasis added]

Inserted from <Huffington Post>

I have seen LGBT folks become quite upset at the use of the term ‘homosexual’.   I admit, I lack their degree of sensitivity to the issue, as does anyone who cannot wear another’s skin.  But I had no idea that this word could cause a 15% swing public opinion.  I tried an experiment on my own.  When I googled ‘homosexual’ more of the images returned were negative, such as my bottom graphic above.  When I googled ‘gay and lesbian’ , more of the images were positive, such as my top graphic above.  I chose that graphic because it represents my own position and policy for this blog.

What really upsets me the most is that the GOP has been able to use this difference to influence Americans.  You can be sure that the difference did not come from the teabaggers.  They would oppose LGBT service regardless of terminology.  I’m equally certain that progressives would support LGBT service regardless of terminology.  Therefore the Americans the GOP are manipulating are in the middle.  These are the folks we need to educate and win over.


the walking man said...

A couple of years ago I realized that them who were so violently opposed to homosexual "anything" are them who equate and reduce in their own closed minds gays/lesbians/transgendered/bisexuals to simply the act of sex and what the closed minded perceive it to be.

Heterosexuals are not reduced to bedroom behaviors but anyone not in the sexual preference majority get's reduced to least important aspect of the relationship.

Yes I can see how how the fear mongers would use this knowledge of certain words triggering negative connotations to sway the herd.

You got me on board Tom, no need to use the term homosexual and easily enough dropped from the lexicon of my personal vocabulary.

Beach Bum said...

"No one in this world, so far as I know has ever lost money by underestimating the intelligence of the great masses of the plain people”
Henry Louis Mencken

I used this quote on the post above but it still applies.

TomCat said...

Thanks Mark. This was an eye opener.

I can't argue with that, Beach.

Gwendolyn H. Barry said...

I never thought about this before, but even on my own, homosexual has much different "feel" to it than "LGBT community" does. Homosexual has negative history... closet history? It is surely different. I never noticed it seriously before.

That's a good 'un Beach. LOL

TomCat said...

Neither did I, Gwen. I hope we never stop learning.

TOM said...

Of course Americans are easily manipulated. Look at all the lies Americans believe from Republicans, and keep voting for them.
Look at all the polls that show the pure lies Americans believe.
Look at the obvious lying politicians, that Americans continue to vote for.
Either Americans are easily manipulated, or they are dumber than rocks.
A third option is that Americans actually want to hurt America, but I don't believe that, except for the liars, that know they are lying.
People who who think their lies are truths, are just deluded. And their are to many of those.

Tom Harper said...

Hmmm, interesting poll questions. Should gay people be allowed to serve in the military? Sure, I don't see why not.

Wait, that doesn't mean they're gonna start letting queers in the Army, does it??!?!?

I was manipulated! I've been had!!

Yes, the multibillion dollar think tank industry is thriving more than ever. Coming up with the exact wording and phrasing for slogans is the shrewdest way to manipulate millions of gullible people.

TRUTH 101 said...

I was going to say what Beach Bum said. I also did a post a few days ago reminding of an election which the republican won because he called his opponent a "practicing homosapien."

A wise man told me you can't fight poverty and stupidity.

otis said...

And so, once again, we reduce the American Electorate to Are They Smarter Than a Second Grader. And the answer is still the same: no.

This is neither a surprise, nor anything new. Why do you think we spend so little on education? Furthermore, why do you think it is neither sides fight TOO hard to better spend education money? Or just to spend what is out there better? No politician wants an educated voter. Keep them in the minority. They are easily overwhelmed by the lesser educated and controlled that way. Duh.

Some may call this a conspiracy theory, I say: Disprove it. When someone attempts to, I will challenge them to go talk to their neighbors and report back. Their argument will evaporate quickly.

Lisa G. said...

TOM, I vote for option b - they are dumber than rocks. This poll is proof positive on this.

The stupid it hurts! Make it stop!

TomCat said...

Tom, I vote for door number 2, dumber than rocks. Approximately 75% of our HS grads are functionally illiterate.

Tom H, that's the way I see it too.

Truth, thats sad, especially when the Republican was pithecanthropus outrageous.

Otis, when I went to school, the emphasis was on learning how to think and learn. Today it has shifted to what to think. The education methodology encouraged and adopted under Nixon was based on the system Hitler installed in Germany in the 1930s.

Lisa, I did too.