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 Deliberative Poll at SRU finds marriage an emotional, personal issue 




September 30, 2008

Contact: K.E. Schwab  




Deliberative Poll at SRU finds marriage an emotional, personal issue         


SLIPPERY ROCK, Pa. - 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, according to results released last week following sessions at four sites across commonwealth, including Slippery Rock University. Results from the SRU site show 70 percent of the participants support the proposed amendment to ban same-sex marriage.

The poll was conducted last Saturday at SRU, Carnegie Mellon University, Shippensburg University and Community College of Philadelphia. Approximately 250 individuals randomly selected from voter registration records of the sites' surrounding counties participated. More than 1,000 people across the commonwealth were initially contacted to participate in the poll. 

The program, the first for Pennsylvania, was sponsored by the Southwestern Pennsylvania Program for Deliberative Democracy and the Pennsylvania Center for Women, Politics and Public Policy at Chatham University.

              Sharon Sykora, associate professor of political science and poll organizer at the SRU site, along with Katherine Cooklin, assistant professor of philosophy, said 80 participants joined in the SRU deliberations. Participant turnout was lower than expected. "Younger people who had agreed to participate appear to have had a higher attrition rate," Cooklin said. "I think our participants were a bit older, in their 40s through late-60s, and more conservative, which may have had an effect on our poll site results. The initial sample included members from all age groups, but with 40 people of the original pool not attending, our sample was affected."

           "Our small-group discussion sessions went well. Participants were civil and respectful, but the panel discussion session was spirited and at times allowed for controversial comments. This is a very emotional subject, so we expected a volatile discussion. The overall point was to talk to one another. We hope participants will now feel more engaged in this and other political and social issues. The day worked, but it was tough. It was a tough issue. It was an issue where people have strong opinions. People took it very personally," Sykora said.

           A Deliberative Poll is a new democratic decision-making process that works to articulate the informed voice of the people. Deliberative Polls allow a group of citizens to come together for immersion on the day's specific topic. The program works to provide information to create an informed electorate, the basis for our democracy. 

           Panelists for the SRU portion were:

Rev. Thomas J. Bodie, a chaplain at Forbes Hospice, which serves those of all faith backgrounds. He earned his doctorate in political science at the University of Maryland and his divinity degree from the Pittsburgh Theological Seminary. He is ordained as a Unitarian Universalist minister;

Colleen A. Cooke, SRU associate professor of parks, and recreation/environmental education, who has been an advocate for people with mental illness, drug and alcohol addiction, and for members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community; 

Joshua Corrette-Bennett, associate professor of biology at Westminster College, whose research focuses on genetic differences. He is also adviser to the LGBT Allies organization at Westminster; 

Catherine J. Massey, associate professor of psychology at SRU, whose research, service and teaching focuses on diversity, including lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender issues; and  

Thomas E. Reiber, a shareholder in the Pittsburgh-based Tucker Arensberg, P.C., who received his undergraduate degree from Lehigh University, his master's degree from the University of Pittsburgh and his law degree from Duquesne University. 

Cooklin served as moderator.

           Data analysts at Carnegie Mellon University indicate the final poll results will be more complex than implied in the initial analysis.

           In preliminary results from the four sites, among those who support legal recognition of same-sex relationships, participants split with approximately 35 percent supporting same-sex marriage and 35 percent supporting a version of civil union. Early released participant data also shows 50 percent support for the Pennsylvania Marriage Protection Amendment. Initial analysis suggests those who supported versions of civil union did not carry that support to an opposition of the Marriage Protection Amendment.

As the data is being analyzed, pollsters report, it is also possible that the distribution of support or opposition will reflect deliberative poll results from the four different sites. They cite as an example, voters in southwestern, middle and eastern Pennsylvania seem to show more opposition to the Pennsylvania Marriage Protection Amendment than those in the northwestern part of the state.

            The poll sites were selected to represent both urban and rural voters from various geographic areas in the state.

            In other survey results, more than 80 percent of poll participants felt the same-sex marriage debate is either very or somewhat important for Pennsylvania and the nation as well.

             The full survey consisted of 14 questions. Initial results will be available during the first weeks of October at:


Slippery Rock University is Pennsylvania's premier public residential university. Slippery Rock University provides students with a comprehensive learning experience that intentionally combines academic instruction with enhanced educational and learning opportunities that make a positive difference in their lives.

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