Wednesday, November 08, 2006

One more election post-mortem

Only this one will be narrowly focused -- gay "marriage." Backers of marriage lost for the first time yesterday before a state's voters. And it wasn't in Massachusetts or Rhode Island — it was Arizona whose voters became the first to reject a state constitutional amendment defining marriage as the union of a man and a woman.

Homosexual-rights campaigners took heart from another factor beyond their first victory after 27 straight defeats:
“Two years ago we had 11 of these on the ballot, and in only two of them did we do better than 40 percent. This year there were eight and in at least five of them we did better than 40 percent.”
Matt Foreman, executive director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force
Obviously, he's not making stuff up, but I think there's less of a general shift here than meets the eye. Foreman isn't just spinning, but there is spin involved, which you can see when you unpack the numbers.

Here are the percentages of voters who voted against the measures in 2006:
Arizona: 51.4%
Colorado: 44.3%
Idaho: 36.7%
South Carolina: 22.0%
South Dakota: 48.2%
Tennessee: 18.7%
Virginia: 42.9%
Wisconsin: 40.6%
An average of 38.1%

Here were the same figures from 2004:
Arkansas: 25%
Georgia: 24%
Kentucky: 25%
Michigan: 41%
Mississippi: 14%
Montana: 33%
North Dakota: 27%
Ohio: 38%
Oklahoma: 24%
Oregon: 43%
Utah: 34%
An average of 29.8%

Now that's a "gain" of more than 8 percentage points. And obviously, a victory is a victory.

But much of the "average" gain has a great deal to do with the mix of states represented. But comparing like-with-like, there wasn't much change in most of the country. In the 2004 votes, the pro-gay vote in the Bible-belt South hovered around 20 percent -- just as in 2006 (Virginia being the solitary exception). The votes that took place in the "Big 10" Midwest were virtually the same in 2004 — 38 and 41 — as in 2006 — 40.6.

Only in the more libertarian regions of the Plains Midwest and West did pro-gay advocates make much headway, and these states were where most of yesterday's votes were. But they were already averaging the 30-something neighborhood in 2004, while they broke into the 40+ region in 2006. Getting 37 percent in Idaho isn't that much better than 34 percent in Utah.

I cherry-picked two those last states of course, but to prove that the tectonic plates haven't shifted dramatically on the issue. The pro-gay forces made some headway certainly (boooo). But I suspect local factors, like other things on the ballot, had more to do with the results in South Dakota, Virginia and Arizona, which are outliers.

Going back even more, in 2000, when Proposition 22 was on the California ballot, this very-blue state voted to protect marriage by 61.4 percent to 38.6 percent (the same year, California voters rejected a school-voucher amendment by 71-29 and backed Al Gore by 12 points, so we are definitely dealing with a time when the Religious Right had become anathema there). Point being: "gay-marriage" pushers always have been able to get around 40 percent in the right states and circumstances.

I think the reason opponents of homosexual "marriage" may have lost a little momentum was that liberals also backed off a bit. Remember, those 2004 votes came in the immediate wake of both the 2003 Massachusetts court decision and an open campaign of civil disobedience by government officials, led by the mayor of San Francisco, to issue marriage licenses on their own will, trying to impose gay "marriage" on the country as a fait accompli.

But that changed a bit in the past year. The Massachusetts court didn't allow homosexuals from outside to come in simply for "marriage's" sake, turning their state into Reno East. Courts in California, New York and Washington state -- all of whom liberals hoped would either mimic Massachusetts or go one step further by imposing out-of-state "marriages," declined even to do the first, instead deferring to their legislatures. Just a week before the election, the New Jersey high court, which earlier has unanimously tried to impose homosexual leaders on the Boy Scouts, took up the issue. Its id clearly wanted to create gay "marriage" but backed off, instead ordering the Legislature to pass either gay "marriage" or a system of civil-unions (three of the seven members of the panel went ahead and did what felt good). If these Jersey Girls had pulled a Massachusetts a week before the election ... who knows?

Obviously, none of that affects the rights and wrongs of the matter, but most voters aren't philosophers. A sense of immediacy and threat does matter. It's not everything, but certainly urgency is worth a few points (if it weren't, campaign ads wouldn't be as they are). The NGLTF's Foreman pretty much says as much:
What we're seeing is that fear-mongering around same-sex marriage is fizzling out.
He says to-MAY-to ("fear-mongering," "fizzling out"); I say to-MAH-to ("urgency ... worth a few points"). But it's the same thing -- the notion that we'll wake up one day to find liberal judges imposing gay marriage looks less-credible and imminent in 2006 than it did in 2003-4. The night after Bush won, I raised a toast "to the MVPs of Bush's victory -- the Massachusetts Supreme Court and the mayor of San Francisco." Nobody to toast this time around.

For now.


Anonymous said...

Those averages indicate nothing. They have to be weighted by the total number of votes in each election.

CourageMan said...

If I were comparing to a national poll, or trying to discern a national sample, you would be correct.

I was doing neither of those things though. And neither was Matt Foreman. For the very simple reason that we're both talking about STATE constitutional amendments.

And my point stands -- gay "marriage" advocates gained a bit in the West, but little anywhere else. Largely, I'd guess because the vote took on less urgency, probably because courts backed off some.

Dad29 said...

The AZ. initiative included a ban on health-bennies to unmarried HETEROsexual 'couples.'

That was a bridge too far for many people, obviously.

The Wisconsin organization backing gay "marriage" (by opposing the Amendment) resorted to damn-near-fraudulent robo-calls and TV ads--and still lost.

Joe Baby said...

Just to clarify:

The AZ Amendment banned the state and its sub-organs (cities, universities, etc.) from granting benefits based upon a marriage-like status.

Those organizations could have drafted a benefit package whereby each adult could have passed benefits to one adult beneficiary -- indeed, this option was even mentioned by the lawyers who drafted the amendment language.

But the "No on 107" group wasn't that interested in nuance. Hats off to 'em -- the focused in on benefits and drove it home, and showed hetero couples on the website and ads.

Other reasons for defeat in AZ include:

1. No voter distaste (yet?) with judicial activism.

2. Some statutory language already in place.

3. General democratic sweep in the state this election.

Ironically, amendment opponents often said that AZ didn't need this amendment because protections were already in place (debunking fear of a NJ scenario). So a move towards recognition in the next few years will likely have a built-in roadblock.