Sunday, June 22, 2008

Obama's Gay Coattails?

Could Barack Obama’s ability to get out the youth vote help stop a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage in California?

The conventional wisdom has been that gay marriage ballot initiatives have been good for Republicans. Many credit an amendment on the Ohio ballot in 2004 for George Bush’s narrow re-election victory. Although that assertion has not gone unchallenged:

Many analysts at the time credited a large turnout of social conservatives in Ohio as being responsible for Bush's razor-thin victory in the state. Kenneth Sherrill, a political science professor at Hunter College in New York, has analyzed the Ohio election returns and concluded that was not the case.

“If you look at county-level election returns, you see that Bush's improvement over his 2000 vote was greatest in the counties where the amendment didn't do well,” Sherrill said.

Regardless, some things have changed since 2004, most notably attitudes toward gay marriage. According to a Pew Research report, support for gay marriage increase from 32% to 38% from 2004 to 2008. While a plurality of voters (49%) still oppose gay marriage, that number fell from 56% in 2008. Younger voters, however, are even more amenable to marriage equality. Among voters 18-29, 52% support giving gay and lesbian couples the right to marry (up from 46% in 2004). Only 40% of these voters oppose gay marriage (down from 46% in 2004).

In what Time Magazine has called the “Year of the Youth Vote,” could Obama’s ability to get out the youth vote defeat gay marriage amendments on the ballot in Florida, California, and Arizona? During the primaries, younger voters voted for Democratic candidates by more than a 2-1 margin and the share of younger voters increase from 9.4% to 14.3%.

In California, where a simple majority is needed for the amendment to become law, a 2000 referendum on gay marriage passed with 61% of the vote. However, a recent field poll found that support for gay marriage had risen to 51%. Some believe that a youth surge could help defeat the amendment. From the San Diego Union Tribune:

Polls consistently show younger voters having a more live-and-let-live attitude on gay issues than older voters, suggesting they would be more likely to oppose the marriage initiative.

“If the young kids come out and vote for Obama – and I think they will – that could turn it around,” said Sherry Bebitch Jeffe, a political analyst at the University of Southern California.

In 2006, Arizona voters voted down and amendment that would have banned same-sex marriage, as well as any form of civil unions or domestic partnership. John McCain appeared in TV ad for a group promoting the amendment.

Groups are working now to put an amendment on the fall ballot, but some experts think that the Obama effect could help defeat such an effort again:

Polls in Arizona indicate that about 55 percent of voters are likely to approve a measure that bans just same-sex marriage, said Bruce Merrill, professor emeritus of communications at Arizona State University.

Still, Merrill said the Obama effect could spell defeat for the constitutional ban.

“I expect turnout to be much higher than it has been in the past, particularly with younger people,” he said. “That could make the same-sex marriage issue very close.”

Obama’s gay coattails could also help efforts in other states. In Florida , a 60% majority is required to amend the constitution. The most recent poll shows support at 58%.

I am among the Clintonistas who remains angry about the conduct of the Democratic presidential primaries, but I cannot ignore evidence—evidence such as the polling data cited in this post—which shows that supporting Barack Obama is the best possible outcome for myself and millions of other gay and lesbian Americans fighting for equality.

For those of you who aren’t yet ready to say, “Yes, we can,” and I count myself among you, please consider me joining in saying, “No, McCain won’t!”


atdnext said...


Good point. Marriage equality already has majority support here in Cali. But with an increased youth turnout for Obama this November, we have a great chance of rejecting discrimination being written into our Constitution once and for all. :-)

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