November 03, 2004

One of the revisionist accounts of yesterday's defeat for the Democratic Party concerns the use of social wedge issues, particularly referenda to ban gay marriage, as an explanation for the disappointing result. Pointing to Ohio, where an anti-gay initiative passed easily, the claim is that Karl Rove, et al., drove up Republican turnout by diverting attention from Bush's crummy record on the economy and terrorism onto a familiar scapegoat, in this case gays. While it might have helped get a few extra homophobes to the polls in Ohio (where an initiative outlawing gay marriages and civil unions passed over the opposition of the Republican governor and two U.S. Senators), an all-encompassing explanation for what went wrong it is not. Of the eleven states where gay marriage bans were on the ballot, two (Oregon and Michigan) were carried by the Democrats, in both cases by larger margins than expected, and seven of the other nine were unreconstructed "Red States". In only two states, Ohio and Arkansas, could it be said that Bush carried a state where there were both competitive races at the Presidential level and a ballot measure before the voters on gay marriage. In neither instance does it seem plausible to me that Kerry lost because of an influx of new voters drawn to the polls because of an antipathy to gay marriage.

Where the issue might have made a difference, though, was in the battle for the Senate. In two states, Kentucky and Oklahoma, the initiatives may have drawn enough bigots to the polls to aid in the victory of two rather weak GOP candidates, both of whom used homophobia to attack their opponents.

UPDATE: Josh Marshall's post, on how push-polling was used in Ohio to draw out the bigots, comes to a different conclusion on its effectiveness in that state.

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