In the final six weeks before voters had their say on Prop 8 in California in 2008, polls showed the likely outcome went from “too close to call” to “shit, we’re screwed.” How come?
A fat new analysis of the polling data claims to have some answers. Turns out it wasn’t black voters at fault, but white Democrats scared their children would be taught about The Gay, writes Dave Fleischer of the LGBT Mentoring Project.
After the election, a misleading finding from exit polls led many to blame African Americans for the loss. But in our new analysis, it appears that African Americans’ views were relatively stable. True, a majority of African Americans opposed same-sex marriage, but that was true at the beginning and at the end of the campaign; few changed their minds in the closing weeks.
The shift, it turns out, was greatest among parents with children under 18 living at home — many of them white Democrats.
The numbers are staggering. In the last six weeks, when both sides saturated the airwaves with television ads, more than 687,000 voters changed their minds and decided to oppose same-sex marriage. More than 500,000 of those, the data suggest, were parents with children under 18 living at home. Because the proposition passed by 600,000 votes, this shift alone more than handed victory to proponents.
What caused these folks to change their minds? The magical technology called “television.”
Perhaps it shouldn’t be a surprise. The Yes on 8 campaign targeted parents in its TV ads. “Mom! Guess what I learned in school today!” were the cheery-frightening first words of the supporters’ most-broadcast ad. They emerged from the mouth of a young girl who had supposedly just learned that she could marry a female when she grew up. Among the array of untrue ideas that parents could easily take away: that impressionable kids would be indoctrinated; that they would learn about gay sex; that they would be more likely to become gay; and that they might choose to be gay. California voters, depending on where they lived in the state, were exposed to the Yes on 8 ads 20 to 40 times.
The lesson: It’s not enough to make the case for same-sex marriage. It’s also important to arm voters — particularly parents — against an inevitable propaganda attack. And it’s crucial to rebut lies so parents don’t panic.
And despite the notion that the close vote on Prop 8 — 52 to 48 percent — would mean it’d be easy to repeal the thing two (and now four) years later, it turns out voter idiocy (read: “confusion”) actually helped the No On 8 side.
It’s true that the official election results — 52% to 48% — appeared quite close. But the truth is more complicated. The data we analyzed show that the No on 8 campaign benefitted from voter confusion.
Polling suggests that half a million people who opposed same-sex marriage mistakenly voted against the proposition. They were confused by the idea that a “no” vote was actually a vote for gay marriage. This “wrong-way voting” affected both sides, but overwhelmingly it helped the “no” side. Our analysis suggests that the division among California voters on same-sex marriage at the time of Proposition 8 was actually 54% to 46% — not so close. We are actually 1 million votes away from being able to reverse Proposition 8.
And while this data dump is useful, it’s both disheartening and hopeful. It shows people who voted against same-sex marriage weren’t “motivated by hate,” but by misinformation. This bodes well for campaigns moving forward, where more effort can be placed on debunking the myths of marriage discrimination supporters. In 2008, the No On 8 side instead relied mostly on warm fuzzy feel-good messages about families and kids. Instead, perhaps, we should be scaring voters into imagining what would happen to their families if their gay neighbors can’t get married: They’ll move somewhere they can, lower property values, and take Pottery Barn with them.
Update: Love Honor Cherish, which attempted a 2010 repeal of Prop 8, has some major problems with the report. The group says in an email blast:
The new report on Proposition 8 by Dave Fleischer of the Los Angeles Gay & Lesbian Center released today is severely flawed. Although many aspects of the report are helpful and constructive, the report makes the assertion that “If all voters had correctly understood how to vote to express their opinion on same-sex marriage, Prop 8 would have passed 54% to 46%, by a 1,000,000 vote margin. To reverse the result, we start out 1,000,000 votes behind.”
This assertion is wrong and unsupportable,” stated Love Honor Cherish Board Chair Tom Watson. “As set out in the briefing by renowned political polling firm David Binder Research, which was also released today, ‘wrong-way voting’ had no effect ‘on the outcome of the Proposition 8 ballot initiative.'” “It is also misleading since repeated polls since the 2008 election have demonstrated increased support for same-sex marriage in California. In the PPIC’s March 2010 survey of Californians, 50% support same-sex marriage and only 45% oppose.”
The report further asserts, based on its wrong-way voting analysis, that “it is possible that it will take longer to return to the ballot and win than some believed when 2010 and 2012 were the only options given serious consideration.”
“We are left to wonder why Fleischer, who is not an expert in statistics or polling, would put forth such an analysis,” said Watson. “We can only surmise that the report is designed to benefit those who favor waiting before going to the ballot to repeal Prop 8.”