The Facts: Gay Marriage Didn’t Tilt 2004 Election

Matthew Dowd

By Matthew Dowd

May 9, 2012 8:41pm

President Obama’s stand today in support of gay marriage has unleashed much conversation surrounding the political impact of his statement and the effect it could have on the electoral map and election this November.   And part of this discussion has repeated a myth that I have tried to dispel before and will try again.

The gay marriage initiatives in 2004 on the ballot in 11 states had no discernable effect on turnout among conservatives.  Yes, that’s right,  none.  Not even in Ohio, which was a swing state in 2004 won in a close contest by former President Bush. 

Today, the myth is repeated over and over that Bush beat Kerry in Ohio in part because of the gay marriage initiative on the ballot.  The facts and data simply do not support that conclusion.

Yes, conservative turnout was up in Ohio by five percentage points.  It was also up five percentage points nationally.  And if you look at the conservative turnout increase in the 11 states verses the other 39 states that didn’t have gay marriage on the ballot,  the conservative turnout was up exactly the same. 

Further, if you look at white evangelical and conservative turnout in swing states with gay marriage initiatives versus swing states without them (like Florida, Pennsylvania and Nevada), again, there is no statistical difference in turnout increases among these groups.  Yes, that is right, increase in turnout among key conservative groups did not vary between swing states with and without these initiatives on the ballot.

In 2004, I worked on President Bush’s campaign as chief strategist and was deeply involved in examining and determining which issues would motivate conservatives and evangelicals.  In all that analysis preparing for the campaign, not a single social issue rose to the top five motivators (not abortion, not gay marriage, not a one).  The motivators for that election were national security issues, issues concerning the budget and taxes, and issues surrounding the economy.  And these are the issues the campaign put all their resources behind and I constantly advocated internally as our focus. 

So again, let’s put this myth to rest.  Gay marriage initiatives in 2004 did not affect the turnout among conservative voters in any way.  It’s important as analysts for us to look at the data as it stands and try not to repeat myths just because either side promulgates them over and over to serve their purposes.

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