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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Did Gay Marriage Referenda Help Bush Get Re-elected?

By Alan Abramowitz
An analysis of the results of last week’s election indicates that the presence of gay marriage referenda on the ballot had no effect on the outcome of the presidential election at the state level.
There was a very strong correlation between President Bush’s share of the vote in 2000 and his share of the vote in 2004 across all 50 states and the District of Columbia. The president consistently ran a few percentage points ahead of his showing in 2000, but he did not improve on his 2000 performance any more in states with gay marriage referenda than in other states. In 11 states with gay marriage referenda on the ballot, the president increased his share of the vote from an average of 55.4 percent in 2000 to an average of 58.0 percent in 2004–an improvement of 2.6 percentage points. However, in the rest of the country the president increased his share of the vote from an average of 48.1 percent in 2000 to an average of 51.0 percent in 2004–an improvement of 2.9 percentage points.

11 comments on “Did Gay Marriage Referenda Help Bush Get Re-elected?

  1. Eddie Ashbee on

    If we are going to compare Bush’s share of the vote between 2000 and 2004 then surely we have make some adjustments for the Nader vote? Bush’s share of the 2-party vote was 49.7% in 2000. His increased share, 2000-04, was therefore about 1.2 – 1.3%. In five of the eleven states where there was a same-sex marriage (and civil union etc) ballot, Bush lost ground and in two further states his gain was less than 1.2%. In the four remaining states, he made gains.
    There is, therefore, no pattern here and any discussion must remain purely speculative.

  2. Gabby Hayes on

    Why do people do *this*? Doe it *make* the word more special? Is it a new writing *convention*?
    Inquiring *minds* want to know.
    As for the correlation vel non, who knows? Without breaking down each state, comparing a lot of data from this time to last time in the that state, and then applying some sound thinking, it is not possible to KNOW. It’s easy to look at some numbers and speculate.
    I’ve looked at stats from both sides now, and like clouds, they can be whatever you see in them.
    If the gay issue kept someone from switching from Bush to the Dem, or if the gay issue made someone vote for Bush who otherwise might have stayed at home, how will we know that?
    This whole process is a little like losing the World Series in 7 games by one run, and then trying to figure out what went wrong by studying every AT BAT the team had.

  3. Alex MacDonald on

    Gay marriage referenda were no identical. Some included bans on civil unions (Ohio, for example). The average gain for Bush in referendum states versus non refernedum should, but does not, reflect the difference. Also, is there any way of judging whether the pro rederenda voters were reacting to gay marriage or to the Massachusetts judges?

  4. Duane Williams on

    The title of the article (“Did Gay Marriage Referenda Help Bush Get Re-elected?”) is very clear. The question is whether the *presence of the referenda* on the ballot helped Bush. The article gives pretty strong evidence that Bush did better in states without the gay marriage referenda, in terms of increasing the number of people who voted for him over the number who voted for him in 2000.
    It may be true that the gay marriage issue may have mobilized lots of voters, but that is not the question that Abramowitz was looking at. No doubt that war in Iraq also mobilized lots of voters, as did the lose of jobs, etc. etc. Lots of issues helped to get more people out to vote, from all sides. You can’t tell from looking at the number of voters, or even the increase since 2000, why more people showed up to vote.
    But, it is significant that the increase was greater in states without gay marriage referenda. The war is an issue for everyone, so is health care, jobs, the environment, etc. etc. And so is the gay marriage issue. But what was not the same for everyone was whether the gay marriage issue was on the ballot!
    The question Abramowitz was asking was whether that difference in 11 states attracted more voters to the polls in those states. His evidence is not definitive, but it is certainly suggestive and interesting.

  5. Gabby Hayes on

    When I was younger and we would lose an election, my head would just about explode. Four years seemed so long until the next presidential election.
    By my mid thirties, I had gotten to the point where I realized that coming out of the loss was the best time to mobilize for next time.
    In 1984, we took a beating, and not just the presidency, but we started in 1985 with a plan to get Senators elected, and to build a base for a centrist candidate. The DLC was part of that effort, and it served an important role in vetting Clinton, Robb, Gephardt, Gore, and others.
    In 1993, after we got the WH, we weren’t ready for the Gingrich shenanigans, we didn’t see their scheme coming, and we got submarined in ’94. We’ve been playing defense since.
    We need to steal that page and retake the House. Then we can impeach the lot of them.

  6. Kerim Friedman on

    I though the argument was that these “wedge” issues helped mobilize voters and get more people out to the polls. Is there any evidence that conservatives in these states voted in any higher numbers than they would have otherwise?

  7. goldengreek on

    This is getting silly. So why DID people vote for this man? I think we just need to admit the election was stolen since nothing is panning out of all this that makes any sense.

  8. Kristofer Munn on

    Here’s my problem with a lot of the analysis out there discounting various causes of a Bush win. I’m probably completely wrong and off base but here goes.
    The Democrats invested millions in GOTV. Tens of millions. Perhaps hundreds of millions. And, coincidentally perhaps, John Kerry got more votes than Reagan ever did. More than any other Presidential candidate ever had before. Except Bush got even more.
    When I see people making percentage comparisons saying that Bush’s margin in a state moved only slightly, that doesn’t say to me, “X didn’t help make Bush the winner.” It says to me, “Damn, the GOP GOTV efforts increased the Bush turnout even more than the Democrats increased theirs – whatever they did WORKED VERY WELL.”
    While one single factor such as a specific traditional marriage amendment might be dismissed in a vacuum, fact is that gay marriage and Massachusetts’ stance on it was used to leverage people out of the pews and into the voting booths on November 2.

  9. PWestre on

    I think that this article clearly says what the task needs to be for the next 2 years. The Democratic party needs to dedicate itself to regaining control of state legislatures AND the US Senate.
    On the Minnesota state level this translates into:
    First goal, defeat Gov Pawlenty next election. He is beatable. He was not able to deliver MN for Bush. Also he saw significant erosion in the Repub state house caucus in spite of 8 visits to MN by Bush. I think Sen. Dean Johnson has the right combination of skills to pull this off.
    Second goal for MN is to work on identifying the weakest Republican Congressman. (Either Kennedy or Gutknecht.) Identifying a strong DFL candidate for each district and start the campaign NOW to unseat one or both of them. I think that Patty Wetterling can beat Kennedy next time. An email campaign to her will probably persuade her to run again.
    Third Goal, Regain the state House and maintain control of the State senate in 2006. Redistricting after 2010 is the reason. I think that the DFL should seriously consider proposing a nonpartisan redistricting system similar to Iowa. I think that having truly competitive electoral districts statewide is to our long term benefit. Also the DFL should work for adoption of Instant Runoff Voting for the next election. (Think of Green voters to the left and Independence Party voters to the center). These outlying voters are more likely to second choice the DFL under IRV.
    Fourth, Maintain Daytons Senatorial seat in 2006. A strong 2006 gubernatorial candidate will help.
    Fifth, identify a strong DFL candidate to run against Coleman in 2008.
    Sixth, work on bringing the Independence party voters back towards DFL alignment. The DFL and Independence party voters represent an electoral majority in MN. IRV would help with this process. This has a strong historical parallel to the unification between the Democratic party and the Farm Labor party in the forties. Of course this also means that the DFL is going to have to find a way to declare peace with each other on the hot button social issues such as gay and abortion rights that the republicans used against us this past election. These social issues are election success killers for greater Minnesota DFL candidates.
    I think that each of these goals is doable if we remember that our first priority is to win elections.
    —– Original Message —–
    From: Debra Hogenson
    Sent: Saturday, November 06, 2004 11:33 AM
    To: 1st CD discussion
    Subject: [1CD_DFL_discuss] No Surrender
    November 5, 2004
    No Surrender
    President Bush isn’t a conservative. He’s a radical – the leader of a
    coalition that deeply dislikes America as it is. Part of that coalition
    wants to tear down the legacy of Franklin Roosevelt, eviscerating Social
    Security and, eventually, Medicare. Another part wants to break down the
    barriers between church and state. And thanks to a heavy turnout by
    evangelical Christians, Mr. Bush has four more years to advance that
    radical agenda.
    Democrats are now, understandably, engaged in self-examination. But
    while it’s O.K. to think things over, those who abhor the direction Mr.
    Bush is taking the country must maintain their intensity; they must not
    succumb to defeatism.
    This election did not prove the Republicans unbeatable. Mr. Bush did not
    win in a landslide. Without the fading but still potent aura of 9/11,
    when the nation was ready to rally around any leader, he wouldn’t have
    won at all. And future events will almost surely offer opportunities for
    a Democratic comeback.
    I don’t hope for more and worse scandals and failures during Mr. Bush’s
    second term, but I do expect them. The resurgence of Al Qaeda, the
    debacle in Iraq, the explosion of the budget deficit and the failure to
    create jobs weren’t things that just happened to occur on Mr. Bush’s
    watch. They were the consequences of bad policies made by people who let
    ideology trump reality.
    Those people still have Mr. Bush’s ear, and his election victory will
    only give them the confidence to make even bigger mistakes.
    So what should the Democrats do?
    One faction of the party is already calling for the Democrats to blur
    the differences between themselves and the Republicans. Or at least
    that’s what I think Al From of the Democratic Leadership Council means
    when he says, “We’ve got to close the cultural gap.” But that’s a losing
    Yes, Democrats need to make it clear that they support personal virtue,
    that they value fidelity, responsibility, honesty and faith. This
    shouldn’t be a hard case to make: Democrats are as likely as Republicans
    to be faithful spouses and good parents, and Republicans are as likely
    as Democrats to be adulterers, gamblers or drug abusers. Massachusetts
    has the lowest divorce rate in the country; blue states, on average,
    have lower rates of out-of-wedlock births than red states.
    But Democrats are not going to get the support of people whose votes are
    motivated, above all, by their opposition to abortion and gay rights
    (and, in the background, opposition to minority rights). All they will
    do if they try to cater to intolerance is alienate their own base.
    Does this mean that the Democrats are condemned to permanent minority
    status? No. The religious right – not to be confused with religious
    Americans in general – isn’t a majority, or even a dominant minority.
    It’s just one bloc of voters, whom the Republican Party has learned to
    mobilize with wedge issues like this year’s polarizing debate over gay
    Rather than catering to voters who will never support them, the
    Democrats – who are doing pretty well at getting the votes of moderates
    and independents – need to become equally effective at mobilizing their
    own base.
    In fact, they have made good strides, showing much more unity and
    intensity than anyone thought possible a year ago. But for the lingering
    aura of 9/11, they would have won.
    What they need to do now is develop a political program aimed at
    maintaining and increasing the intensity. That means setting some
    realistic but critical goals for the next year.
    Democrats shouldn’t cave in to Mr. Bush when he tries to appoint highly
    partisan judges – even when the effort to block a bad appointment fails,
    it will show supporters that the party stands for something. They should
    gear up for a bid to retake the Senate or at least make a major dent in
    the Republican lead. They should keep the pressure on Mr. Bush when he
    makes terrible policy decisions, which he will.
    It’s all right to take a few weeks to think it over. (Heads up to
    readers: I’ll be starting a long-planned break next week, to work on a
    economics textbook. I’ll be back in January.) But Democrats mustn’t give
    up the fight. What’s at stake isn’t just the fate of their party, but
    the fate of America as we know it.
    E-mail: krugman@nytimes.com

  10. Derek Copold on

    This strikes me, with all due respect, as using statistics to cover up unpleasant facts. In Ohio, it was more than improving a lead on a percentage basis (in fact, Bush’s lead shrunk), it was also about getting voters to show up. The “gay marriage” referendum there made the difference in a state that should have gone John Kerry, and would have put him in the White House.


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