Foes trying to confuse voters, supporters of gay rights claim
By Tess NacelewiczBackers of the referendum to overturn the state's new gay rights law are trying to confuse voters by linking gay rights to the hotly debated issue of partial birth abortions in a telephone survey, opponents say.
©Copyright 1998 Guy Gannett Communications
The Christian Coalition of Maine, which supports the Feb. 10 referendum, is calling voters statewide and asking three questions: ''Are you likely to vote in the special election Feb. 10? Do you favor special rights for homosexuals? Do you favor banning partial birth abortions?''
''I think they want people to believe that both issues are on the ballot,'' said Karen Geraghty of Maine Won't Discriminate, which advocates a ''no'' vote in the referendum. ''I think that's the purpose of their work.''
Geraghty called the survey a ''push poll,'' a public opinion poll that seems objective but which is worded in a certain way to push voters in a particular direction.
But the head of the Christian Coalition denied that the calls confuse voters; that they constitute a a ''push poll,'' or that they serve a political purpose in the referendum.
The Christian Coalition, along with the Christian Civic League, prompted the referendum by gathering more than 50,131 signatures statewide. Voters will be asked if they want to overturn a new state law extending civil rights protections to homosexuals.
Paul Volle said the calls, which the Christian Coalition has conducted for about a month, are ''to find out where the friendly voters are'' on two issues he considers important in the state: gay rights and partial birth abortion. That is a controversial method of late-term abortion in which a fetus' head is crushed before it is extracted from the womb.
''We're trying to identify people who would be supportive of traditional family values,'' Volle said. The Christian Coalition then will know which voters to target in November's state legislative elections and future campaigns, he said.
Volle said the target is to reach 100,000 registered voters. About half that number have been called.
He said the survey is conducted largely by volunteers who are instructed to say they're from the Christian Coalition. Callers also are told not to try to sway voters in any way, he said.
''This is a poll. It's not an advocacy thing,'' Volle said. ''There's a big difference.''
But Geraghty said, ''I think it is a smokescreen. They're going to go to any lengths to confuse voters and divide our community.''
Geraghty said Maine Won't Discriminate has been told that at least one caller was informed that there were two referendum questions on the ballot.
Another voter, Karen Brown of South Portland, said Monday that the question about abortion confused her when she was called last week.
''I didn't know the two issues were together,'' she said. ''I thought we were only voting on one issue and that's it.''
Polls show that a majority of Mainers favor extending civil rights to homosexuals, but the partial birth abortion issue has been more hotly debated.
A University of Southern Maine political science professor said Monday that such a mass calling is not a scientifically-valid poll. William Coogan said a scientific poll typically would be based on a random sampling of a much smaller cross-section of the population.
Richard Maiman, a University of Southern Maine political science professor, also said he believes the Christian Coalition is conducting a ''push poll,'' but added: ''I think the push is more in question two than question three.''
''I think it's intended to reinforce the ('special rights') message that the Christian Coalition wants to get out there on what people are being asked to vote on Feb. 10,'' Maiman said.
Maiman said he considers the question about special rights ''worthless'' if the Christian Coalition truly wants to find out Mainers' views. He said even those who oppose the referendum will say they don't want special rights for homosexuals; they will say they want equal rights.
Volle said the survey is costing ''a few hundred dollars'' but the Christian Coalition probably won't list the expenditure in the campaign financial statements of the two political action groups - Yes for Equal Rights and the Ad Hoc Committee for Common Sense - that the Christian Coalition and the Christian Civic League have formed on behalf of the referendum.
''It's not an advocacy thing,'' Volle said. ''If we were doing advocacy, there's no question you'd have to report it.''
But Geraghty accused the Christian Coalition ''of trying to get around (the state's) reporting requirements (on political campaigns).''
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