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Sept. 3: Carnegie Mellon One of Four Sites Hosting First Statewide Deliberative Poll on Same-Sex Marriage


Kelli McElhinny                        

Carnegie Mellon One of Four Sites Hosting First
Statewide Deliberative Poll on Same-Sex Marriage

PITTSBURGH—When they head to the voting booth in November, Californians will be deciding on a referendum that would ban same-sex marriage in their state. Earlier this year, a group of Pennsylvania legislators introduced the Marriage Protection Act, which proposed a similar ban in the Commonwealth, although that legislation ultimately stalled.
For such hot-button social issues that require an educated and aware public in order to reach a representative opinion, deliberative polling can be a useful strategy. A deliberative poll indicates what a community as a whole might think about a particular issue if that community had time to become informed about the issue through an intensive deliberative process.Robert Cavalier
On Saturday, Sept. 27, approximately 400 participants will convene at sites across Pennsylvania for the first statewide "Deliberative Poll® on the Issue of Marriage in America," which is being presented by the Southwestern Pennsylvania Program for Deliberative Democracy (SPPDD). Carnegie Mellon University is one of four host sites for the poll, which will take place from 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m., along with Slippery Rock University, Shippensburg University and the Community College of Philadelphia.
"Recent court and state actions regarding the issue of same-sex marriage present an opportunity to highlight the advantages of a more deliberative democracy," said Robert Cavalier, a teaching professor of philosophy at Carnegie Mellon, who is also an SPPDD co-director. "We will be able to see Americans come together and participate in an informed, well-structured conversation — the kind envisioned by our founding fathers — about a challenging social values issue.
"The deliberative poll will set a much better stage for discussion than the current sound bite-ridden, bumper-sticker battlefield."
A deliberative poll begins when a random sample of the population receives information on a particular issue. For this poll, participants selected from voter registration records from the counties surrounding the four sites will read background materials on the historical, religious and societal aspects of marriage. The materials also compare and contrast the Pennsylvania legislature's Marriage Protection Act with the Massachusetts Supreme Court decision legalizing gay marriages and the Vermont legislation that legalized civil unions in that state.
On the day of the poll, the participants gather in small, moderated groups to discuss and deliberate the topic amongst themselves and with experts and then respond to a survey. The post-survey results will be tabulated by the evening of the event.
As the federal government continues its current trend of allowing the states' discretion to shape policies on these types of issues, the deliberative poll could emerge as a valuable tool in gauging the electorate's beliefs. The process can also be conducted for a fraction of the cost of mass media and advertising campaigns traditionally used to shape opinion, Cavalier noted.
The SPPDD, which is housed at Carnegie Mellon, is collaborating with Chatham University's Pennsylvania Center for Women, Politics and Public Policy in sponsoring the event. The two programs are also implementing community and legislative outreach strategies so that the participants' opinions are known to legislators as they debate this timely issue.
"How often have we heard decision-makers bemoan the absence of quality information about what the public really thinks about an issue?" said Allyson Lowe, director of the center and a political scientist at Chatham. "The deliberative poll is an answer to that problem. It educates citizens and provides meaningful poll results to politicians.
"If knowledge is power, now politicians and citizens will have more of both."
More information is available at

Pictured above is Robert Cavalier, a teaching professor of philosophy at Carnegie Mellon and an SPPDD co-director.