May 15, 2012
By Jacob Combs
Writing in The Week, Democratic advisor Robert Shrum, who worked on both the 2000 and 2004 presidential race as well as many senatorial and gubernatorial campaigns, takes a close look at the possible electoral effect of President Obama’s announcement in support of marriage equality last week. Since Obama’s ABC interview with Robin Roberts, pundits have been quick to predict how the president’s move will either help or harm him, pointing to the passage of Amendment One in North Carolina and George W. Bush’s 2004 victory on the coattails of a marriage ban in Ohio as proof.
But as Shrum points out, the individual dynamics of the swing states that will be up for grabs in November show that any backlash against Obama that might come from anti-gay voters is likely to be minimal:
Not only do a majority of Americans now favor same-sex marriage, but 50 percent of Ohio Republicans favor it or civil unions. And the Ohio outcome this time is likely to be shaped far less by Obama’s position on marriage equality and far more by Romney’s opposition to the auto bailout — which would have devastated the Buckeye State.
Iowa and Virginia are frequently cited — but it very likely won’t happen there. Obama has a 10-point lead in Iowa, where voters wouldn’t do again what they did in the tea-fouled year of 2010, removing three of the state’s Supreme Court justices who had joined a unanimous opinion striking down a ban on same-sex marriage. That decision still stands. And the old Virginia of Jerry Falwell is increasingly outweighed by the new Virginia that stretches from the Washington suburbs to Richmond.
Well, then, what about North Carolina, which just passed an anti-gay-marriage constitutional amendment? The implicit assumption is obvious, simple, and wrong. Here is the bottom line: In any swing state, voters for whom animus to marriage equality is the single, burning issue aren’t casting a ballot for Obama anyway. If you are so intent on discriminating against gay Americans that this issue alone determines your presidential choice then you are almost certainly uncomfortable with an African-American in the White House.
Shrum also points out the illogic in two other predictions of marriage equality fall-out: that Obama’s announcement will rile up the religious right and that it will lose him support amongst African-Americans. While some have said that making marriage equality an issue will cause religious conservatives who are skeptical of Mitt Romney to rally behind the Republican nominee and break up the apathy they’ve been feeling (and showing) during the Republican primaries, it’s hard to imagine these conservative voters would have sat out the election rather than come out to the polls in favor of whatever alternative to Barack Obama they were presented with.
In terms of the African-American vote, Shrum predicts the opposite of the conventional punditry wisdom that socially conservative blacks may become less enthusiastic in their support of the president. To the contrary, he argues that Obama’s leadership could persuade more of the African-American community to rethink its position on marriage equality, which could end up having an significant effect on marriage referendums in states like Maryland.
In the end, the electoral effects of last week’s announcement will probably be limited: marriage equality will not be a central issue on voters’ minds come November. And in a way, that’s a real victory. With any luck, once Democrats (and other politicians) see that supporting equal rights isn’t the electoral albatross that it may have seemed, they will be persuaded to campaign for those rights more aggressively, creating a kind of virtuous cycle that will speed up the progression of LGBT equality in our country.
UPDATE: Writing in The Daily Beast, Allison Samuels examines the possibility of the shift amongst black voters that Shrum lays out in his article. Also, in a Pew Research Center poll released yesterday, 68% of black respondents said that Obama’s interview had no effect on their opinion of him, while 16% said it made them view him more positively and only 13% said it made them view him less positively. Those numbers are even better than the overall numbers, and the numbers for white voters, demonstrating that marriage is unlikely to be a wedge issue between Obama and the African-American community this election.