College Participates in Statewide Deliberative Poll
Nearly 70 percent of Pennsylvania voters who participated in a statewide Deliberative Poll support the legal recognition of same-sex relationships, either through marriage or civil unions. Community College of Philadelphia, Carnegie Mellon University, Slippery Rock University and Shippensburg University conducted the poll at their respective campuses on Sep. 27.
The poll results represent opinions formed when people have had time to consider and discuss an issue – in this case, the proposed Marriage Protection Amendment to the Pennsylvania constitution – among themselves and with experts. Traditional public opinion polls typically represent isolated responses based on an individual's emotional reaction.
"Participating in a deliberative poll gives people an opportunity to reach beyond the divisive rhetoric that generally surrounds these sorts of contentious issues," said Robert Cavalier, a co-director of the Southwestern Pennsylvania Program for Deliberative Democracy. The SPPDD collaborated with Chatham University's Pennsylvania Center for Women, Politics and Public Policy in sponsoring the event.
"The insight that people gain from their discussions is tremendously valuable in shaping a thoughtful, informed opinion," Cavalier said.
The SPPDD, which is housed at Carnegie Mellon, selected Community College of Philadelphia and the two other universities that hosted the six-hour polling sessions.
The four sites were chosen based on their geographic location and the interest shown by their faculty and staff. To choose the 400 participants who would take part in the polling, a random selection was taken from voter registration rolls over a two-month period. Participants in the poll were paid $75 apiece.
The Philadelphia polling event was organized by College faculty members Nicole Vadino and Julie Gurner, who trained the nearly 30 faculty members and students who helped coordinate the polling event.
Cavalier, a Carnegie Mellon philosophy professor and one of the major forces behind deliberative polling at the university, said that SPPDD had been considering for the last year using the issue of marriage for a poll. The Pennsylvanian state legislature then proposed the Marriage Protection Amendment, which states, "No union other than a marriage between one man and one woman shall be valid or recognized as marriage or the functional equivalent of marriage by the Commonwealth."
The proposed Pennsylvania amendment has been stalled in committee since last spring. A vote is unlikely to occur during the current General Assembly session.
Cavalier believes deliberative polling can create a situation for a civil decision about same-sex marriage, especially considering the heated debate always aroused by the topic. "The deliberative poll will set a much better stage for discussion than the current sound bite-ridden, bumper-sticker battlefield," Cavalier said.
Stephanie Davis, 51, who works at Drexel University, a participant in the polling session at the College, said although same-sex marriage was not an issue that she had given much thought, she enjoyed the opportunity to voice her opinion and learn from others. The 150 Philadelphia participants at the College were broken into a half-dozen small groups that spent the morning listening to one another's views and coming up with questions to ask a panel of experts midway through the day. "We had a very diverse group, but they were all very considerate of each other's feelings," Davis said.
Vadino said Carnegie Mellon did the sampling, but she, Gurner and Smith have been working since last October to take care of everything else. She said the student volunteers did a phenomenal job. "They spent hours of their own time learning how to do this just right. You couldn’t ask for anything better," she said.