Tuesday, November 09, 2004

The Anti-Gay Vote?

There has been a fair amount of buzz to the effect that Bush won because he (or his evil mastermind/architect Karl Rove) managed to get several state constitutional initiative baning gay marriage on the ballot. The theory seems to be that Republicans would have stayed home if not for the fact that they were up in arms over this issue. Case in point this talking point from Josh Marshall:

As many other have already noted, Rove and Co. cleverly managed to get anti-gay marriage initiatives and referenda on the ballot in a number of key swing states. And that seems to have played an key role in mobilizing 'peripheral' evangelical and culturally conservative voters.
In the article that Marshall links to the exit-poll survey number 22 crops up -- as in "22 percent of voters named "moral values" as the most important issue to them", a clear indicator to many people that gay bashing was the number one reason that Bush won.

OK, forget for a moment that these are exit polls and that they predicted a win for Kerry that was wildly off the mark. Forget also the obvious fact that in addition to sexual behavior, "moral values" include such matters as integrity and trustworthiness which have been key distinctives in the campaign against Kerry. Is it possible that these ballot initiatives really did push Bush over the top?

Early on, Andrew Sullivan seemed to think so, and has been struggling with the issue ever since. But a recent article in Slate seems to definitively debunk the notion that the Gay Marriage issue helped Bush at all. As with most statistical arguments, the reasoning may be a little hard to follow, but here is the crucial text:
The evidence that having a gay-marriage ban on the ballot increased voter turnout is spotty. Marriage-ban states did see higher turnout than states without such measures. They also saw higher increases in turnout compared with four years ago. But these differences are relatively small. Based on preliminary turnout estimates, 59.5 percent of the eligible voting population turned out in marriage-ban states, whereas 59.1 percent turned out elsewhere. This is a microscopic gap when compared to other factors. For example, turnout in battleground states was more than 7.5 points higher than it was in less-competitive states, and it increased much more over 2000 as well.

It's true that states with bans on the ballot voted for Bush at higher rates than other states. His vote share averaged 7 points higher in gay-marriage-banning states than in other states (57.9 vs. 50.9). But four years ago, when same-sex marriage was but a twinkle in the eye of the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court, Bush's vote share was 7.3 points higher in these same states than in other states. In other words, by a statistically insignificant margin, putting gay marriage on the ballot actually reduced the degree to which Bush's vote share in the affected states exceeded his vote share elsewhere.


Much has been made of the fact that "moral values" topped the list of voters' concerns, mentioned by more than a fifth (22 percent) of all exit-poll respondents as the "most important issue" of the election. It's true that by four percentage points, people in states where gay marriage was on the ballot were more likely than people elsewhere to mention moral issues as a top priority (25.0 vs. 20.9 percent). But again, the causality is unclear. Did people in these states mention moral issues because gay marriage was on the ballot? Or was it on the ballot in places where people were already more likely to be concerned about morality?
The article goes on to point out that a far bigger reason for the Bush victory was his trustworthiness regarding the war on terror. So, once again, the evil Republican jihad seems to be a conjuration of fevered left-wing paranoia. What a relief.

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