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Obama Supports Same-Sex Marriage     Permalink

Yesterday President Obama announced that he was personally in favor of same-sex marriage although he believes it is up to the states, not the federal government, to take action. This change of position is certainly going to shake up the presidential race for the moment, but the real electoral consequences are far from clear. Nevertheless, a few items are worth speculating about.

First, to the extent that the campaigns focus on this issue (Obama for, Romney against), it is a likely win for Obama since a majority of Americans now support same-sex marriage. Even more important, it takes attention away from the economy. If Romney is now forced to spend half his time, energy, and money attacking Obama on gay marriage, it leaves less of all three for attacking him on unemployment.

Second, a large part of the activist base of the Democratic Party is quite unhappy with Obama for caving to the Republicans in Congress on many issues. They are now going to be hugely energized to go out campaigning for him as this issue draws a bright line between Obama and Romney. Furthermore, this announcement is going to cause many donors, for example, in Hollywood, to write big checks to the campaign, the DNC, the DSCC, and Obama's superPAC. It is estimated that 1 in 6 of Obama's bundlers is gay. They are going to be motivated to collect as much money as they possibly can for Obama. There is no inverse effect on the Republican side because the big money there is focused on lower taxes for the rich and less regulation of business. To wealthy Republican donors, same-sex marriage is an irrelevant sideshow.

Third, most younger voters have no problem with same-sex marriage but they need to be motivated to go vote. This may be the push they need to go register and vote. Without a strong turnout among the 18-29 year-old electorate, Obama is in trouble.

Fourth, black voters generally do not approve of same-sex marriage and Obama's announcement is not going to help him in the black community. Nevertheless, it is hard to imagine Romney getting much traction with black voters, even if they are somewhat disappointed with Obama on this.

Fifth, cultural conservatives are strongly against same-sex marriage and he is bound to lose some votes here. In 2008, Obama carried North Carolina by 14,000 votes. Yesterday North Carolina voters approved a ban not only on same-sex marriage, but also civil unions, by an overwhelming margin. Clearly Obama has his work cut out for him in North Carolina (and Virginia). On the other hand, the demographics of yesterday's North Carolina electorate have not been reported. It may well have skewed heavily Republican since the Republicans had a contested primary and the Democrats didn't.

Sixth, the election is almost six months away. A lot of other things are going to happen between now and then. The average voter has the memory of a flea (does anyone remember Rosengate now?) and by November the uproar caused by this announcement will have died down and it will be one of many issues on the table, including the economy, health care, war, the Supreme Court, and possibly new items not on the agenda now.

In the long run, gay marriage is going to cease to be a political issue, just as interracial marriage has. Look at this graph of polling on gay marriage over the past two decades. The trend is pretty clear.

gay marriage

The trend toward allowing same-sex marriage is worldwide. It is currently legal in Argentina, Belgium, Canada, Iceland, Norway, Portugal, South Africa, Spain, Sweden, and The Netherlands. In these countries, legalization caused an initial commotion, but it quickly died down and didn't have any major political impact.

Still, the bottom line is nobody knows what the net effect will be on the 2012 elections. No doubt Rasmussen and PPP are already running polls on whether this announcement makes people more likely or less likely to vote for Obama. However, even before any polls are released, it is worth noting that when Obama said he wanted to end the Armed Forces' policy of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" the sky did not fall. And after he said the Justice Dept. would no longer defend the Defense of Marriage Act, the peasants did not storm the White House with pitchforks. Nevertheless, marriage carries more emotional weight than the right to serve in the military, so the electoral consequences could be greater now than in the other two cases. But keep in mind, what matters is whether it changes any votes. People strongly against same-sex marriage were probably going to vote for the Republicans before this announcement. Similarly, supporters were probably already planning to vote for the Democrats. The question is how many people are going to switch partisan allegiance as a result and how many nonvoters are actually going to vote now. That we don't know yet.

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Previous headlines

May09 Redesign of This Site to be Launched Soon
May09 Tea Party Candidate Crushes Lugar in Indiana Senate Primary
May09 Barrett Wins Democratic Gubernatorial Primary for Wisconsin Recall Election
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