Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Gay Vote Proved a Boon for Obama

Joshua Lott for The New York Times
A gay pride parade in Chicago in June. President Obama had more than a three-to-one edge among gay voters, exit polls found.

Published: November 15, 2012

While President Obama’s lopsided support among Latino and other minority voters has been a focus of postelection analysis, the overwhelming support he received from another growing demographic group — Americans who identify as gay, lesbian or bisexual — has received much less attention.


But the backing Mr. Obama received from gay voters also has a claim on having been decisive. Mitt Romneyand Mr. Obama won roughly an equal share of votes among straight voters nationwide, exit polls showed. And, a study argues, Mr. Romney appears to have won a narrow victory among straight voters in the swing states of Ohio and Florida.

Mr. Obama’s more than three-to-one edge in exit polls among the 5 percent of voters who identified themselves as gay, lesbian or bisexual was more than enough to give him the ultimate advantage, according to the study, by Gary J. Gates of the Williams Institute at the U.C.L.A. School of Law, in conjunction with Gallup. The results are consistent with earlier research on the number and political beliefs of gay voters.

Democrats have been winning big over Republicans among gay voters, African-Americans, Latinos, Asian-Americansand Jews. Some of the groups are relatively small, but together they make up about one-third of the electorate, forcing Republicans to capture much of the remaining two-thirds to win elections. By comparison, white evangelical voters, who vote overwhelmingly for Republicans, make up about one-fourth of the electorate, and their numbers are not growing as rapidly.

As with Latinos and Asian-Americans, the number of voters who say they are gay appears to be growing. Only 1.9 percent of Americans over 65 call themselves gay, lesbian or bisexual, according to the Gallup survey, while 3.2 percent of those between 30 and 49, and 6.4 percent of those between 18 and 29 do.

“In the younger population, there is a much wider range in the geography and ethnicity of those who are identifying as L.G.B.T.,” Dr. Gates said, using a common term for lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender. That range now extends well beyond major cities and into multiple swing states.

As Republicans plan to reach out to Hispanics and Asian-Americans, another question is whether they would also help themselves by improving their standing among gay voters. Some analysts say Republicans should try to do so, in part to win over moderate straight voters, while others see any such effort as having more risk than upside.

Research by Patrick J. Egan, a professor of politics and public policy at New York University, suggests that gay voters may prove difficult to bring into the Republican tent. Many of them “aren’t swingable because they have liberal positions on a whole bunch of issues besides gay rights,” Dr. Egan said.

Exit polls showed that 76 percent of voters who identified as gay supported Mr. Obama last week, and that 22 percent supported Mr. Romney. Among straight people, each candidate received 49 percent of the vote.

If Republican candidates move to the center on gay rights, they might also risk losing support among cultural conservatives.

“I think it would be a mistake for the party to abandon its moral values,” said J. Hogan Gidley, the national communications director for Rick Santorum’s 2012 presidential run. Instead, Mr. Gidley said, the Republican Party’s low levels of support among gay voters can be outweighed by better messaging to other voters, particularly about same-sex marriage.

“We’ve lost the buzzword battle,” Mr. Gidley said, “that marriage is a ‘right.’ ”

Other Republican strategists, however, say that their party’s stances on social issues like marriage are alienating straight voters, too.

Public support for same-sex marriage and civil unions has climbed steadily since 2004. Recent polls show that support for same-sex marriage now outweighs opposition to it. Surveys by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life have shown that women andyounger people support same-sex marriage at substantially higher rates than do men and older voters.

“We have a very good message, a good plan,” said R. Clarke Cooper, the executive director of the Log Cabin Republicans, a group that pushes for gay rights, referring to the Republican Party’s small-government agenda. “But it’s been drowned out by the cacophony and the noise that is perceived as anti-immigrant, or anti-L.G.B.T., or anti-women.”

While polls show that a large majority of Republicans oppose same-sex marriage, there are small signs of a shift in tone among Republican officeholders. When Mr. Obamaendorsed same-sex marriage in May, the response from Republican leaders was relatively muted.

Republicans in Congress “will tell me behind closed doors that this is the direction we need to go as a party,” Mr. Cooper said, “but publicly they’re not doing that.”

If the Republican Party does not make inroads among gay voters along with other minority groups, he said, the party risks going the way of the Whigs or becoming a regional party.

Mr. Romney’s loss, Mr. Cooper said, is a sign that broadening the party’s appeal is imperative. “There’s nothing fun about saying ‘I told you so,’ ” he added.

A version of this article appeared in print on November 16, 2012, on page A21 of the New York edition with the headline: Gay Support Buoyed Obama, as the Straight Vote Split


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