Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Gays drifting rightward?

Charles Franklin compares the 2004 and 2008 exit polls among dozens of demographic subgroups in an interesting series of plots. The upshot is that Obama very broadly out-performed Kerry. He increased the Democratic vote share in just about every demographic category, with the exception of small town residents and gays.

One could probably ascribe the slight decline in Democratic voting among small town residents either to Obama's "bitter" comments back in the spring or to the choice of former small town mayor Sarah Palin for the Republican VP slot. But I'm particularly curious about the voting patterns for gays and lesbians. Keep in mind that this is still a very loyal Democratic group, preferring Obama to McCain by 70-24. But why would Obama have lost some ground among this group compared to Kerry's performance four years earlier? I found this particularly surprising since Obama's policy stances on same-sex issues are pretty much identical to Kerry's.

Two guesses, one about composition and the other about policy:
  1. More Republicans are out of the closet. It's getting steadily safer to be openly gay, even among conservatives. Therefore, the group of people calling themselves gay in exit polls now contains more Republican voters than it did four years ago. Weighing against this theory is the fact that the number of people identifying themselves as gay hasn't changed appreciably in the past four years; four percent of respondents in both exit polls claimed to be gay. But it's possible that the mix has changed somewhat.
  2. The stances of the Democratic nominees may not have changed since 2004, but the expectations of the gay and lesbian community have. Gay marriage was still a pretty toxic topic just four years ago. No one expected Kerry, even if he'd felt particularly courageous, to support it. Today, it's lost some of its toxicity. Obama's stance against it seemed more cowardly this year.
What do you think?

Update: Alert reader JHB notes that the 2004 Republican Party ran on a pretty explicitly anti-gay platform, while the McCain campaign this year really didn't touch those issues. This could have mollified anger toward the GOP somewhat among moderate gays and lesbians.


Anonymous said...

how many gay republicans do you know?

Seth Masket said...

Closeted or out? And does Larry Craig count?

Eric Rubin said...

i still dont understand why this is a political topic. a person's sexual preference should be of no concern to the government.

Just like any voting block, all gay people do not vote the same way - they dont blindly vote based on who will fight harder for gay rights. Maybe some of them care about the war or the economy or health care for their ailing mother. Maybe some believed in McCain's views.

Seth Masket said...

Of course that's true, Eric. Still, being gay is a politically salient identity, whether we want it to be or not, and today's parties have taken different stances on issues related to that community. I wasn't necessarily speculating why that community is strongly supportive of Democrats. I was curious, however, why that support changed in the past four years.

David said...

I've looked at this a bit, if you look at the past 3 elections, the number of gay people has been *precisely* 4% every year.

This tells me that it might be explicitly set by their stratification procedure.

So your original explanation(more gays out of the closet), might still be correct.

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