Monday, June 4, 2012

The Gay Marriage Announcement

To preface this post, I meant to write it right after the President announced his support for same sex marriage.  Actually, I originally was planning a piece on the politics of announcing his support and whether or not he should do it.  However, the President beat me to that post, and finals, graduation, and moving have kept me from any posts since. 

Let me also say that I may be a bit biased in this article; I am a gay man who is currently engaged and hoping to be married at some point in the near future.  I will do my best to keep this post as unbiased as possible. 

There has been a lot of speculation about how President Obama’s announcement will affect the outcome of the election and whether it will help or hurt him.  The general consensus has been that we don’t know yet.  However, I’m going to disagree with that conventional wisdom.  Obama’s announcement, though very poorly timed, will help his re-election bid, and here is why.

America’s public opinion of same-sex marriage has shifted dramatically in the past couple decades.  In 1996, when Gallop started tracking the public’s views on gay marriage, only 27% of people supported the idea while a whopping 68% were opposed.  Even in 2008, the last time Barack Obama ran for president, the level of support was at 40% as opposed to 56% opposed. 

While that 16% spread may seem like a dramatic improvement as opposed to 1996’s 41% gap, it seems much less remarkable when looking at the overall trend line.  From 2004 to 2010, the level of support (and opposition) has remained remarkably constant, ranging between 37-46% in favor and 53-59% against. 

However, a notable shift occurred sometime between the polling in 2010 and 2011.  For the first time in its history, the polling found that a majority (53%) of respondents were in favor of same-sex marriage while only 45% were opposed.  Similarly, the poll in 2012, which was taken immediately following the President’s announcement, found that 50% were in favor and 48% were opposed. 

While at first glance it may seem as though less people now support gay marriage than in 2011, the change is likely due more to statistical noise.  More importantly, the overall trend line clearly shows an evolving public: one that will soon be strongly in favor of same sex marriage and one that will vastly outnumber opponents. 

Which leads me to my next point: President Obama wants to have a legacy, as all great Presidents do.  In terms of civil rights, Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation; Harry Truman integrated African Americans into the U.S. military; Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and 1965. 

Barack Obama has already done more for the gay community and gay rights movement than any President in history by extending hate crimes to include gays, refusing to uphold the constitutionality of DOMA, and repealing the military’s Don’t Ask Don’t Tell law.  By supporting marriage equality, he is became the first President and Presidential nominee to do so.  Even if Mr. Obama is defeated in November, he will still have carved out a lasting legacy for his support of gay rights.

Finally, President Obama’s announcement will help to advance the mobilization strategy his campaign is using this fall.  Just eight years ago, President Bush also used this wedge issue to excite his own base in his own mobilization efforts.  Unfortunately for the GOP, gay marriage is now an issue that has more fervent support among the Democratic base than it has fervent opposition in the Republican base. 

Specifically, support is highest among younger, more educated Democratic voters.  Coincidentally, these are the same voters who need to be highly engaged in the grassroots efforts of the campaign.  Exciting these voters about their candidate gives a jolt of energy to a campaign, making door-to-door canvassing and phone banking seem more worth it to volunteers. 

Further, one of the President’s strongest and most reliable voting blocks is the gay community.  Until his announcement, many wealthy gay donors were holding back from giving to the campaign.  It isn’t clear yet (and won’t be for another week or so when the May financial disclosures come out) if the President’s support for same sex marriage has changed the money dynamic, but I would be surprised if May was not a strong fundraising month for team Obama. 

So will the President be hurt in some swing states by this announcement?  Possibly.  Will the added excitement of his base be a benefit in others?  Probably.  Will President Obama truly give himself a positive in civil rights?  Absolutely.  

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