Will New Jersey Gay Decision Be a National Factor in the Midterm Elections?

ByABC News
October 26, 2006, 12:25 PM

Oct. 26, 2006 — -- The New Jersey Supreme Court pleased at least two constituencies on Wednesday: gay couples in the state, who won fuller legal rights; and political pundits, who got fresh fodder for their pre-election pontificating.

Will gay marriage be the sleeper issue of the 2006 election, the one that motivates sullen -- and chronically ill-defined -- "values voters," deflects attention from the Iraq war, and lifts the Republican Party out of its doldrums?

Don't bet on it.

While gay marriage is broadly unpopular in this country, there's more chatter than platter in its alleged impact on election politics.

In 2004, voters approved initiatives banning gay marriage in 11 states, and President Bush carried nine of them.

But despite claims to the contrary, there's no compelling evidence that those initiatives boosted turnout disproportionately in Bush's favor.

Indeed there are good data to the contrary.

My own analysis of the 2004 exit poll results, presented at Stanford University on Nov. 9, 2004, found no consistent boost in turnout by pro-Bush groups -- conservatives, Republicans, and churchgoing white Protestants -- in states with gay-marriage initiatives.

An effect, to be an effect, should be consistent.

Nationally, Bush's greatest gain in 2004 came not among the highly churched, but among infrequent churchgoers. That election was about terrorism.

At the same conference, Stanford professor Simon Jackman found disproportionately higher turnout in the gay-marriage initiative states, but not in either candidate's favor; the initiatives, he reported, had "no association with change in Bush vote share."

In crucial Ohio, similarly, Jackman's county-level analysis found no relationship between higher voter turnout and support for the state's gay-marriage initiative.

More recently, last July, Paul Taylor of the Pew Research Center described the notion that '04's gay-marriage initiatives had a broad spillover effect on the presidential race as "anchored more in myth than reality."

Taylor suggested that, only "in the land of conjecture," gay marriage "might -- might" have had an impact in Ohio.