Does Washington Weigh on Washington?

June 7, 2012
Posted by Jay Livingston

Will Obama’s coming out for gay marriage swing a referendum in Washington state?

Gay marriage in Washington state is only four months old, but the straights-only forces are trying nip it in the bud and at the ballot box.  They have filed petitions to let a simple majority of voters decide who has the right to marry.  This strategy has worked in the other states, where hetero majorities have consistently voted keep the gay minority out of their marriage club.

The Times story notes that in Washington it’s not clear which side is in the majority. The article cites surveys and previous voting. But then it adds,
President Obama’s endorsement of same-sex marriage rights last month is probably the biggest new variable in a state that he won handily in 2008 and where he still had a 54 percent approval rating in a poll released last week by Strategies 360. [emphasis added]
Is Obama’s support a big variable?

Surveys taken before and after showed  Obama’s announcement of his own “evolution” having no effect on White voters. It may have had some influence among Black voters, where support for gay marriage increased by nearly 20 points – from 41% to 59%.  That shift should be interpreted cautiously since the number of African Americans in the sample was not large. Even so, African Americans are only 3.6% of the Washington state population, and their percentage among voters may be even smaller  - more reason to question the weight of the Obama variable

Also, as Nate Silver says on his FiveThirtyEight blog at the Times, that effect may dissipate over time.  

For Democrats who oppose gay marriage, the issue now becomes a classic example of “cross pressure.”* Obama’s statement may make that pressure especially felt among African Americans. As Jon Bernstein at WaPo put it,
people who are on Team Church and Team Democrat now realize that those two are in conflict and they have to choose, while before they were getting only one signal.
The beauty of the ballot measure for the ant-gay-marriage forces is that cross-pressured voters do not have to choose. They can split the issues and vote for the Democratic candidate but against gay-marriage. That option makes any possible Obama effect even more feathery and ephemeral.

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* This was a topic of an early post on this blog (here), and although that post was about Republicans, Bernstein’s “Team Church” reinforces the relevance of that post’s title (one of my favorites): “The Old Rugged Cross-Pressure.”

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