Ballot Watch: Same-Sex Marriage
This is Ballot Watch. Today is the ninth in the series of articles on the upcoming ballot initiatives and some key local elections. Some of these will cover topics in common with multiple states, while others will look at a state level.
Today we take a step back from the geography-based Ballot Watches and cover our last issue-based Ballot Watch: same-sex marriage.
Four states are considering ballot initiatives or voter-driven constitutional amendments that would impact same-sex marriage: Maine, Maryland, Minnesota, and Washington. I’ll run down the data on each of these in turn, but first some historical perspective bolstered with longitudinal national polling data (that is, polling data taken over time, some from 35 years ago).
Following George W. Bush’s razor-thin electoral vote victory in the 2000 election, strategist Karl “Turdblossom” Rove was widely assumed to have engineered a strategy that assured President Bush’s 2004 re-election: place same-sex marriage initiatives on key state ballots to fire up the “values voters” base and get out the vote for his candidate. In his 2010 memoir Courage and Consequence: My Life as a Conservative in the Fight, Rove wrote a non-denial denial, saying that it wasn’t engineered by him, but he took advantage of it, and in any case it didn’t help Bush as much as it hurt Kerry:
We were comfortable with what we did, which was when the Massachusetts Superior Judicial Court in November of 2003 pushed this issue into politics, by saying that there was — that traditional marriage was undermined in Massachusetts by a decision that said gays had a right to single-sex marriage, to same-sex marriage. It was the courts that pushed this into the campaign.
Gay marriage was an ugly fight we had not asked for but could win if we handled with care. Done right, our response to gay marriage could show it was possible to bring a courteous and caring tone to a divisive issue. The issue also revealed the nuttiness of the Left, which never saw how persistent America’s traditionalism really was. Instead, the Left seemed convinced that Bush and I engineered the issue’s emergence to drive Bush partisans to the polls. But, of course, it was a liberal supreme court that brought the issue to the fore.
In the end, whether a state had a marriage ballot measure didn’t affect Bush’s share of the vote: he increased his portion of the vote between 2000 and 2004 by an average of 2.7 points in the states without referenda and by an average of 2.5 points in the eleven states with defense-of-marriage initiatives on the November ballot, a statistically insignificant difference … But the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court decision did affect the 2004 election by motivating culturally conservative Democrats and independents who might otherwise have voted Democratic to abandon Kerry over his wobbly views on marriage.
My analysis of his argument is that he’s using these statistics to obfuscate the issue, and regarding his motives, we just have to take his word for it. (Or not, depending on how much you trust Rove.) It’s really not important that President Bush increased his margin in California from 42.1 percent in 2000 to 44.4 percent in 2004. He didn’t swing any electoral votes, and had no potential of swinging them, in California.
It is important, on the other hand, that Ohio moved from 50.5 percent for Bush in 2000 to 50.8 percent in 2004 (staying red in both years). One could argue the same-sex marriage initiative kept Ohio in the red column. It’s also important that Bush made serious challenges in the 2000 blue states of Michigan (46.4 percent and 18 electoral votes in 2000 to 47.8 percent and 17 electoral votes in 2004) and Oregon (47.2 percent in 2000 to 47.4 percent in 2004, with seven electoral votes both times), which brought Bush closer to flipping those 24–25 electoral votes even though they stayed blue. Rove’s strategy was not necessarily to flip states, but to make Kerry expend resources defending states he shouldn’t have needed to defend, and more importantly, motivating the “values voter” base in the one key swing state where polling data said Kerry was going to flip the state — Ohio. Had Kerry won Ohio, he would have reached 272 electoral votes in 2004, enough to win the White House. Eleven states had same-sex marriage initiatives in 2004 (Arkansas, Georgia, Kentucky, Michigan, Mississippi, Montana, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon and Utah); few were close enough to matter, and are therefore unimportant to the analysis, though Rove throws them in his calculator anyway. Rove was fighting for swing states.
Over the past eight years, however, there has been a sea change in Americans’ attitudes toward same-sex marriage, as is evident from longitudinal Gallup polling data over the past 16 years. In 2004, those opposed to same-sex marriage held a 55–42 (13 percentage point) advantage over those in favor. In this year’s May survey, those in favor of same-sex marriage have a 50–48 advantage, a swing of 15 percentage points. This is a slight reversion to the mean from the 2011 survey, which was almost exactly flipped from the 2004 results:
The trendline for supporters of same-sex marriage has moved steadily upward since 1996, while the opposition’s trendline has moved steadily downward. This appears to be driven by a demographic shift. Among 18 to 34 year olds, 66 percent favor same-sex marriage. In the 35 to 54 group, 47 percent are in favor, while in the over 55 group, only 40 percent are in favor.
Regionally, voters in the East are most likely to support same-sex marriage (56 percent) while those in the South are least likely (40 percent).
Only 22 percent of Republicans are in favor of same-sex marriage, compared to 57 percent of independents and 65 percent of Democrats.
Gallup has helpfully plotted the trendline for a “morally acceptable” question alongside a “same-sex marriage valid” question, and you can see that the two track very closely to one another over time:
Going back a bit further, there has been a huge shift, with similar numbers, in a Gallup question that asks whether people are “born” gay or “choose to be” gay. (As a scientist, I’d say they’re asking the wrong question, but that’s another article for another day).
As Nate Silver has pointed out, if President Obama has a tremendous get-out-the-vote effort, he will cruise to an easy reëlection. Might these initiatives have an opposite effect in 2012 than they did in 2004, reflecting the changed polling data?
It appears that three of the four states listed may approve same-sex marriage in the November 6, 2012 election.
Maine Question 1
Question 1 would double-flip a legislative initiative passed and signed into law by Democratic then-Governor John Baldacci which allowed same-sex marriage. In 2009, Maine voters overturned that law 53 to 47 percent and in 2010 elected a Tea Party-supported governor, Paul LePage, who voters now say, in PPP polling, they wish they hadn’t elected. His approval rating is now minus 11 percent: 41 to 52.
This year, supporters of same-sex marriage are trying to overturn the overturn. Despite the complicated history of the ballot question, the actual wording on the ballot is very simple:
Do you want to allow the State of Maine to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples?
Of course, even in simplicity there is conflict. Opponents of same-sex marriage preferred this language:
Do you favor a law allowing marriage licenses for same-sex couples that protects religious freedom by ensuring no religion or clergy be required to perform such a marriage in violation of their religious beliefs?
The latest available polls, taken in June, show 57 percent in favor of the question and 35 percent opposed.
Maryland Question 6
Maryland’s Question 6 ballot language is as follows:
Establishes that Maryland’s civil marriage laws allow gay and lesbian couples to obtain a civil marriage license, provided they are not otherwise prohibited from marrying; protects clergy from having to perform any particular marriage ceremony in violation of their religious beliefs; affirms that each religious faith has exclusive control over its own theological doctrine regarding who may marry within that faith; and provides that religious organizations and certain related entities are not required to provide goods, services, or benefits to an individual related to the celebration or promotion of marriage in violation of their religious beliefs.
A vote “in favor of” would preserve the same-sex marriage statute passed by the legislature and signed by Democratic Governor Martin O’Malley, which is being held pending the outcome of this vote. The legislative provision was designed to not take effect until 2013, and opponents have taken the opportunity to put the issue to a vote, gathering over 100,000 petition signatures. If passed, Maryland would be the first state in the nation to support same-sex marriage at the ballot box (since the polls close earlier in Maryland than in the other states listed).
Democratic Delegate Emmett Burns, Jr., a pastor at the Rising Sun First Baptist Church, set off a firestorm when he demanded that Baltimore Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti muzzle Brendon Ayanbadejo, a player who publicly supported Question 6.
…as a Delegate to the Maryland General Assembly and a Baltimore Ravens Football fan, I find it inconceivable that one of your players, Mr. Brendon Ayanbadejo, would publicly endorse Same-Sex marriage, specifically, as a Raven Football player…I am requesting that you take the necessary action, as a National Football Franchise Owner, to inhibit such expressions from your employee and that he be ordered to cease and desist such injurious actions. I know of no other NFL player who has done what Mr. Ayanbadejo is doing.
Burns later discovered that Ayanbadejo had First Amendment rights. The brouhaha shows the divisions within the African-American community, particularly the same generational divide seen in the nationwide polling cited above.
There don’t appear to be any recent polls on Question 6; PPP polling done in May shows a 20-point (57–37) advantage for supporters and a late July Hart Research poll shows a 54–40 margin in favor.
Minnesota Same-Sex Marriage Amendment
Only a union of one man and one woman shall be valid or recognized as a marriage in Minnesota.
In poll data released September 12, PPP found the initiative would succeed, and same-sex marriage would be banned, by 48 percent to 47 percent. Previous polls found 43 percent in favor and 49 percent opposed (June) and 48 percent in favor and 44 percent opposed (January). As PPP says, “this one looks like a toss-up”. Tellingly, support is low among Democrats (16 percent), high among Republicans (80 percent) and more closely divided among independents (51 percent in favor of a ban, 42 percent opposed). The success or failure of this constitutional amendment will likely rest on partisan get-out-the-vote efforts.
Washington State Referendum 74
Amazon founder Jeff Bezos has ponied up $2.5 million in support of Washington State’s Referendum 74, which would uphold a legislative sanction for same-sex marriage. Recent (not John) Elway polling, gathered September 8–12, shows 52 percent in support of the referendum, and 40 percent opposed. (The same poll shows marijuana legalization Initiative 502, which I wrote about previously, at a 50–38 margin, up from a narrow two point lead in July.)
The referendum ballot language is as follows:
The legislature passed Engrossed Substitute Senate Bill 6239 concerning marriage for same-sex couples, modified domestic-partnership law, and religious freedom, and voters have filed a sufficient referendum petition on this bill.
This bill would allow same-sex couples to marry, preserve domestic partnerships only for seniors, and preserve the right of clergy or religious organizations to refuse to perform, recognize, or accommodate any marriage ceremony.
Should this bill be:
[ ] Approved
[ ] Rejected
In summary, Maine, Maryland, and Washington appear to be the first three states in which voters will sanction same-sex marriage, while in Minnesota, the constitutional ban appears to be balanced on a knife edge.
- Should voters uphold same-sex marriage law? No (columbian.com)
- Recent Developments in the Fight Over Legalized Gay Marriage (blogs.lawyers.com)
- Campaign to approve same-sex marriage gets boost from Seattle Times (king5.com)
- Same-sex marriage is a legal right (bangordailynews.com)
- The Massive Shift For Marriage Equality at the Ballot (elections.firedoglake.com)
- Same-sex marriage symposium: Gay marriage, democracy, and judicial review (scotusblog.com)