Research from the University of Queensland has suggested what many might privately have suspected: many "No" voters in the Marriage Equality Postal Survey have lower cognitive ability than those voting "Yes".
Using data from the longitudinal Household, Income and Labour Dynamics in Australia (HILDA) survey collected between 2012 and 2015, social researcher Francisco Perales assessed the demographic traits of people who support equal legal rights for couples of the same sex. Discussing his findings in The Conversation on Tuesday, Perales explains how he found there to be a "strong and statistically significant association between higher cognitive ability and a greater likelihood to support equal rights between same and different sex couples."
In 2015, a HILDA survey question asked participants to agree or disagree with the statement "Homosexual couples should have the same rights as heterosexual couples do." These same study participants had previously completed a series of rigorous cognitive ability tests back in 2012, and Perales found that those with lower cognitive scores were much less likely to express support for equal marriage rights. His analysis used a sample of more than 11, 600 people.
Even when he adjusted his data to take into account the biases that come with age, gender, educational qualification and religion, Perales still found that there was a "large and statistically significant" association between cognitive ability and support for the equal rights of same-sex couples.
He notes that the findings do not mean that all people who intend to vote "No" in the postal survey are stupid, nor that all people who vote "Yes" are geniuses. But on average, "people who stand against equal rights for same-sex couples are less likely to have the cognitive resources that are important to participating in meaningful debate."
You know when you finally crack and start trying to convince some guy from your high school with an "It's okay to vote 'No'" filter on his profile picture that same-sex marriage won't be the end of society as we know it? There's a reason your arguments aren't hitting home.
"This may shed some light on why those who stand against equal rights may not be persuaded by evidence-based arguments in the ongoing marriage equality debate," Perales writes. He points out that "No" voters with lower cognitive ability are more likely to be swayed by the emotional, irrational rhetoric of advertising campaigns that have no factual basis and confuse the issues of equal marriage with gender education programmes in schools.
So if the "Yes" campaign can't change people's minds, what can it do? Focus on getting intelligent people to vote. It might not always feel like it, but idiots are actually in the minority—for decades, polls have consistently shown majority support for marriage equality in Australia.
"It is possible many supporters of the "No" case could not be convinced by reason and evidence. If so, the "yes" side's best way to minimise the possibility of a surprise "No" victory... may be to target the overwhelming majority of Australians who support equal rights to have their say," says Perales.
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