With public opinion shifting over the past decade to greater support for same-sex marriage, a study published in Political Research Quarterly suggests that just as anti-same-sex marriage ballot initiatives drew conservative voters to the polls in 2004, marriage ballot initiatives pulled more liberal voters to the polls in the 2012 election.
“Professor Garretson has used state of the art methods and the conclusion that he draws is not so surprising when we think about the immense sea change we have seen over these years,” said Patrick Egan, a professor of politics and public policy at New York University who was not involved in the study. “It used to be that all the energy was on the anti-marriage side, but over the course of the decade enthusiasm shifted toward those in favor of extending marriage to same-sex couples… It became an advantage.”
Jeremiah Garretson, a political science professor at Stony Brook University on Long Island, used “individual- and county-level data” to show that “more recent votes on [same-sex marriage] have mobilized more pro-Obama [same-sex marriage] supporters than pro-Republican social conservatives,” according to the study.
In a series of complex calculations that used voter enthusiasm, predicted turnout, and actual turnout, Garretson estimated that the four 2012 marriage ballot initiatives gave President Barack Obama an additional 42,000 votes in Maine, 49,000 votes in Maryland, 89,000 votes in Minnesota, and 108,000 votes in Washington State. The Minnesota vote was a ban on same-sex marriage that voters shot down, and voters approved same-sex marriage in the other three states.
The study has implications for gay groups that are weighing marriage ballot initiatives in roughly a half dozen states this year and over the next several years. Republicans, who first used this strategy to help President George W. Bush get reelected in 2004, may now want to stop such initiatives. In fact, Republican legislators were responsible for jettisoning a proposal to put a gay marriage ban on the ballot in Indiana this November.
“As [same-sex marriage] preferences continue to strengthen among liberals and potentially weaken among conservatives, [same-sex marriage] initiatives will likely continue to advantage liberals in the future with increasing effect,” Garretson wrote in the study, which was published in February and only recently brought to Gay City News’ attention.
“What we're seeing here is that, with supermajority support nationwide for the freedom to marry, having marriage on the ballot is now a clear boon to Democrats,” wrote Marc Solomon, national campaign director at Freedom to Marry, a group pushing for same-sex marriage rights, in an email. “This is clear evidence that it's in the best interest of the national Republican Party to reform its platform and make the freedom to marry the person you love a fully non-partisan cause.”
Though Garretson did not discuss this in the study, what is also notable about the four 2012 marriage votes is Obama’s margin of victory versus the margin of victory for the four ballot initiatives.
In Minnesota, Obama won by eight points and marriage only by three points. In Washington, Obama won by 14 points and marriage won by six points. In Maine, Obama won by 15 points and marriage won by six points. Most dramatically, Obama took Maryland by 25 points and marriage won by four points.
The pro-Obama, anti-marriage voters in those four states tended to be more Protestant, more evangelical, more conservative or moderate, less educated, and more African-American, according to a sample from the Cooperative Congressional Election Study of 2012 that Garretson examined for Gay City News.
In the sample of 1,610 Obama voters in the four states, 33 percent of the Obama voters were Protestant, but 55 percent of the anti-marriage voters were Protestant. Fifteen percent of the Obama voters said they were “born again,” but 42 percent of the anti-marriage voters who supported his reelection said they were born again.
Catholics constituted 18 percent of the Obama voters in the sample, but just 21 percent of the anti-marriage voters in that group were Catholic, suggesting, as polls have, that they are willing to part company with the Church hierarchy on social issues.
While three out of five anti-marriage voters who supported the president’s reelection were white, African-Americans were 12 percent of the Obama voters but 34 percent of those who voted for him but against same-sex marriage. African-Americans have consistently been part of the Democratic coalition, but a significant number still oppose same-sex marriage.
Voters who said they were “strict conservative” or “conservative” constituted one and three percent, respectively, of the Obama voters and six and 12 percent of his supporters who were anti-marriage voters. Voters who described themselves as “middle of the road” politically constituted 23 percent of the Obama voters and 35 percent of the anti-marriage voters within his bloc.
Voters with just a high school degree were 19 percent of the Obama voters in the sample, but among those who voted for him but against marriage equality they represented 35 percent of the total.
In an email to Gay City News, Garretson said such pro-Obama, anti-marriage voters could be moved on marriage.
“If they can be persuaded to view same-sex marriage through a different lens, for instance, by potentially meeting lesbians or gays, they may be persuaded to use factors other than their religious preferences in determining their position on same-sex marriage,” he wrote. “They may be persuaded to view same-sex marriage through a lens of fairness and equality, a predisposition that may have also led them to support Obama, or to view the issue through the faces of the people they may be potentially discriminating against, rather than to use religious doctrines in determining their position on same-sex marriage.”