By Alan Abramowitz
Americans are deeply dissatisfied with the failure of the Bush Administration and the Republican Congress to address the major problems facing the nation including the deteriorating situation in Iraq, our growing dependence on foreign oil, health care, education, and the environment. But Republican leaders have finally come up with a strategy to deal with growing public discontent–bring back gay marriage. On Monday President Bush will again announce his support for a constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage. Despite the fact that the amendment has no chance of being enacted, Republican strategists hopes to use the issue of gay marriage to distract the public from the war and other issues and to energize its conservative base–just like they did in 2004.
The problem with this scenario, however, is that the strategy didn’t even work the first time. There is no credible evidence that the issue of gay marriage actually helped the GOP in 2004. Gay marriage referenda were supposed to increase turnout and support for President Bush among religious white voters. But they didn’t. Turnout increased by the same amount in states with and without gay marriage referenda on the ballot and George Bush’s share of the vote increased by the same amount in states with and without gay marriage referenda on the ballot.
According to national exit poll data, in the 11 states with gay marriage referenda on the ballot, regular churchgoers made up 46 percent of the white electorate in 2000 and an identical 46 percent in 2004. The percentage of regular churchgoers who voted for George Bush was 72 percent in 2000 vs. 74 percent in 2004, an increase of two percentage points. But this was less than the three point increase in support for Bush among all white voters.
The gay marriage ploy didn’t work in 2004 and it is highly unlikely that it work in 2006. Maybe the Republicans should try something different this time–like dealing with the real problems facing the American people.
By Alan Abramowitz