War of the words

July 29, 2008

It’s been widely discussed that how a poll question is worded can affect the outcome of the poll. Apparently, that’s true for ballot initiatives as well:

Supporters of Proposition 8, the proposed state constitutional amendment that would ban gay marriage, said they would file suit today to block a change made by California Atty. Gen. Jerry Brown to the language of the measure’s ballot title and summary.

Petitions circulated to qualify the initiative for the ballot said the measure would amend the state Constitution “to provide that only marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized in California.”

In a move made public last week and applauded by same-sex marriage proponents, the attorney general’s office changed the language to say that Proposition 8 seeks to “eliminate the right of same-sex couples to marry.”

[. . .]

Political analysts on both sides suggest that the language change will make passage of the initiative more difficult, noting that voters might be more reluctant to pass a measure that makes clear it is taking away existing rights.

Supporters of the measure have a point. One way of wording it just says what will be done — the other says who it will be done to. One version will get more votes for one side, and the other would cost that side votes. There’s no way to make the language neutral.

Maybe everybody should insist on such help with the language. Proposals to designate public areas nonsmoking could be worded, “The right of some taxpayers to engage in a lawful activity in places of their choice will be taken away.” And let’s make all tax proposals include the wording, “The citizens in this jurisdiction will longer have the right to keep and spend the same amount of their own money as in the past.”

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One Response to “War of the words”

  1. gadfly Says:

    This controversy may be out of tune with the times, but California flakes are usually out of step and bucking trends.

    A/P reports the divorce rates are the lowest since 1970 …for an unexpected reason:

    ” America’s divorce rate began climbing in the late 1960s and skyrocketed during the ’70s and early ’80s, as virtually every state adopted no-fault divorce laws. The rate peaked at 5.3 divorces per 1,000 people in 1981.

    But since then it’s dropped by one-third, to 3.6. That’s the lowest rate since 1970.

    What’s fueling that decline? According to 20 scholars, marriage- promotion experts and divorce lawyers consulted by The Associated Press, a combination of things.

    The number of couples who live together without marrying has increased tenfold since 1960; the marriage rate has dropped by nearly 30 percent in past 25 years; and Americans are waiting about five years longer to marry than they did in 1970.”


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