The Gay Marriage Vote

Nov 19, 2008 10:23am

When Californians voted by 52-48 percent for a gay marriage ban Nov. 4, it wasn’t the first time: A similar measure passed by 61-39 percent in 2000, then was rejected by the state’s courts. The new version bypassed the courts by amending the state’s Constitution.

What changed in the two votes? Support for banning gay marriage dropped among most groups, producing the narrower margin. But it increased in one, African-Americans, and that contributed greatly to the measure’s success: Non-blacks voted 50-50 on the measure this year, while blacks backed it by a 40-point margin.

In the item below, Nik Bonovich, an election polling analyst here at the ABC News Polling Unit, dissects some of the changes in California’s vote on gay marriage from 2000 to 2008.

By Nik Bonovich

Perhaps the most notable change in the gay marriage vote was among blacks: While most other groups moved away from a ban on gay marriage, African-Americans moved toward it, voting 70-30 percent in favor this year, compared with 59-41 percent eight years ago.

Strikingly, blacks broadly favored the gay marriage ban despite their almost unanimous support for Barack Obama, who’d opposed the initiative, Proposition 8. Indeed, among non-black Obama voters in California, 74 percent opposed Prop. 8. Blacks were more aligned with John McCain’s voters, who favored it overwhelmingly, 84-16 percent.

The vote among blacks is not surprising: In a national ABC/Post poll in late 2007, blacks opposed gay civil unions by 58-36 percent. (Whites were in favor, 55-41.) In earlier polling we've done specifically on gay marriage, blacks have been even more broadly opposed, 66-31 percent – very similar to their latest vote in California.

Blacks pushed the measure ahead not only by their lopsided support, but also because, with Obama at the top of the ticket, they increased their share of the electorate to 10 percent, up from the usual 6 or 7 percent in the state.

Most other shifts were against the measure. Among whites, support for banning gay marriage dropped from 60 percent in 2000 to 49 percent this year; among Hispanics, from 63 percent to 53 percent. Support for the ban dropped among men from 64 percent in 2000 to 53 percent this year; among women, from 57 percent to 52 percent.

Young adults generally are more supportive of gay rights. In the 2000 vote (held in the primaries, in which young voter turnout was low) voters under age 30 divided evenly on the issue. This year young voters shifted sharply, 61-39 percent against the measure. Seniors, on the other hand, supported the ban by precisely the same margin.

There was little or no change from 2000 among conservatives or Republicans, both of whom very broadly supported the ban, or among independents, who fairly narrowly opposed it. But opposition rose sharply among Democrats, liberals and moderates alike, up 10, 11 and 15 points, respectively.

Supporters of the ban reportedly suggested that schools would incorporate same-sex marriage into lesson plans. Whether that had an effect is unclear. But voters with children under 18 at home supported the proposition by 64-36 percent, while those without minor children opposed it, 56-44 percent. Similarly, 62 percent of unmarried voters opposed the proposition, while 60 percent of married voters supported it.

In one of the sharpest divisions, 81 percent of evangelical white Protestants in California supported the ban, while among voters with no religious affiliation, 90 percent opposed it. The two groups were about the same size, 17 and 16 percent of voters, respectively.

Voters in Florida and Arizona also approved constitutional amendments banning gay marriage. In Arizona, Proposition 102 passed by 56-44 percent; in Florida, Amendment 2 passed by 62-38 percent. African-Americans in Florida voted similarly to blacks in California, supporting the ban by 71-29 percent. (There was an insufficient sample of blacks in Arizona to estimate their vote.) But, unlike California, majorities of whites in Florida and Arizona also supported banning gay marriage, as did most Hispanics.

Click here for a table comparing the 2000 and 2008 California votes by group.

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