By 58-36%, Most Want Ban on Same-Sex Marriage, Yet Gibson Says Public 'Evenly Split'

A new ABC News poll found that by a 22-point margin -- 58 to 36 percent -- a solid majority of Americans believe “same-sex marriage should be illegal,” yet, on Monday’s World News Tonight, ABC anchor Charles Gibson declared that “the polls show Americans are fairly evenly split on this issue.” ABCNews.com headlined its story, “Most Oppose Gay Marriage; Fewer Back an Amendment,” and reporter Jake Tapper pointed out how “forty-five of fifty states have passed either constitutional amendments or laws banning same-sex marriage, including in Democratic-leaning states Oregon and California.” Nonetheless, a seemingly befuddled Gibson asked George Stephanopoulos: “Why does the White House think this is a political winner for the President if indeed we're split?" Stephanopoulos explained that “the number of Americans who are strongly opposed to gay marriage is more than twice the size of the number who are strongly for it, and that group of voters who want to block gay marriage is three times as likely to vote on the issue.”

Gibson next relayed what Stephanopoulos characterized as the Democratic spin. Gibson inquired, “why, if the votes are not there for this constitutional amendment, does the Senate spend three days on this issue when there are a lot of issues that perhaps they could do something about it?" Stephanopoulos answered, “The Democrats think their best issue is misplaced priorities, and they say exactly what you say: The Senate shouldn't be spending their time on this when you have high gas prices and a war raging in Iraq." (Transcript follows)

The ABC News survey determined the public is a bit closer on the proposed constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriages, with 42 percent in support compared to 51 percent who prefer the issue be left to the states. But Gibson didn’t appear to be referring to that when he contended that “the polls show Americans are fairly evenly split on this issue," especially since Stephanopoulos responded with poll findings about the level of public opposition to same-sex marriage, not the specific amendment. Filling in the ratio alluded to by Stephanopoulos in outlining the intensity of views on whether same-sex marriage should be illegal or legal, the PDF of the poll results recounted how “people who ‘strongly’ oppose gay marriage -- 51 percent of the public -- outnumber strong supporters by 2-1.”

For more examples of network distortion of polls on same-sex marriage, check Tim Graham's NewsBusters posting on Monday's morning shows.

A transcript from the June 5 World News Tonight, which led with the same-sex marriage topic, as provided by the MRC’s Brad Wilmouth who corrected the closed-captioning against the video:

Charles Gibson, in opening teaser:
"Tonight, the marriage amendment. President Bush calls for an amendment to the Constitution to ban same-sex marriage. Why does he raise this issue now?"

Gibson led his newscast:
"Good evening. President Bush today called for a constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage. Just two years ago, he said he would not do so because there were not enough votes to pass such an amendment. But two things have changed since then. One, judges in a number of states have ruled in favor of same-sex marriage. And two, the President's popularity is at an all-time low. So we start with ABC's senior national correspondent, Jake Tapper."

From the White House, Jake Tapper began:
"Charlie, the President's critics say Mr. Bush spent the day putting important issues, such as the war in Iraq, on the back burner. The President met with religious leaders today in order to put a federal constitutional ban on same-sex marriage on the front burner.

George W. Bush, at Monday event: "Marriage is the most fundamental institution of civilization.”

Tapper: "Forty-five of fifty states have passed either constitutional amendments or laws banning same-sex marriage, including in Democratic-leaning states Oregon and California. But judges in six states have struck down those provisions."

Bush: "When judges insist on imposing their arbitrary will on the people, the only alternative left to the people is an amendment to the Constitution."

Tapper: "Gay rights activists say the President is pandering."

Joe Solmonese, Human Rights Campaign: "It' a real threat to millions of Americans when the President of the United States stands at the White House and gives license to treat gay and lesbian Americans as second-class citizens."

Tapper: "It's an issue that the President used during his reelection campaign two years ago to rally his Christian conservative base. Many have been angry about the President's relative silence on the subject since then."

Gary Bauer, American Values: "Anything he can do to get his most loyal supporters to re-invest in him and put more energy and support behind him is a good thing."

Tapper: "Shortly after the President's remarks today, the Senate got down to business. Passage is highly unlikely. Amending the Constitution requires a daunting two-thirds majorities in the Senate and House and three-quarters of the fifty state legislatures. According to a new ABC News poll, 58 percent of Americans say same-sex marriage should be illegal, but only 42 percent favor amending the Constitution; 51 percent say it should be up to the individual states. No one knows what this amendment would mean for couples such as John Meunier and Jim Flanagan, who were married two years ago in Massachusetts."

John Meunier: "It's unfair. It's wrong. In my view, it's not very Christian, and, you know, I don't think it will work."

Tapper concluded with the concerns of conservatives about Bush’s genuineness: "Christian conservative activists were excited by today's event, though some remained skeptical. They want to see the White House put the full force of the presidency behind this issue, lobbying the Capitol, more events like today's, and that's when they'll know the President is not just pandering to them and rallying them for the November midterm elections."

Charles Gibson then turned to George Stephanopoulos in DC:
"George, as Jake mentioned, the polls show Americans are fairly evenly split on this issue. So let's get into the politics of this. Why does the White House think this is a political winner for the President if indeed we're split?"

Stephanopoulos: "Because, Charlie, the politics of this are all about intensity. And according to our poll, the number of Americans who are strongly opposed to gay marriage is more than twice the size of the number who are strongly for it, and that group of voters who want to block gay marriage is three times as likely to vote on the issue. So even though you're not going to see the President spending a lot of public time on this after today, the Republicans are going to zero in on those motivated voters with targeted radio ads, with mailings, especially in rural areas of Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Missouri, where the incumbent's in tight races."

Gibson: "Why, if the votes are not there for this constitutional amendment, does the Senate spend three days on this issue when there are a lot of issues that perhaps they could do something about?"

Stephanopoulos: "Well, supporters say it's because they have to do something about those courts, and that to take a stand, the Democrats think their best issue is misplaced priorities, and they say exactly what you say: The Senate shouldn't be spending their time on this when you have high gas prices and a war raging in Iraq."
Brent Baker
Brent Baker
Brent Baker is the Steven P.J. Wood Senior Fellow and VP for Research and Publications at the Media Research Center