Numbers from previous elections suggest LGBT vote could be the difference in winning or losing in swing states for the Democratic candidate
If gay voters repeat their voting patterns from the 2000 and 2004 presidential elections, the gay vote will — based on polls from the end of October — be large enough to give Democrat Barack Obama the margin of victory in three critical swing states.
And it won’t be large enough in any state to give Republican John McCain the votes he needs to win.
In 2000, gay, lesbian and bisexual voters who responded to exit polls gave 70 percent of their vote to Democrat Al Gore, 25 percent to Republican George Bush and 5 percent to other candidates.
Four years later, GLB voters who responded to exit polls gave 77 percent of their vote to Democrat John Kerry and 23 percent to Republican George Bush.
If those voting patterns hold in 2008, the estimated number of GLB voters for the Democrat will likely be larger than the current leads Obama holds in Florida, Missouri and North Carolina.
For instance, in Florida, applying census data and other population studies by the GLB voters likely comprise about 4.94 percent of the 7.5 million voters who turned out in 2004. That puts the GLB vote in Florida — in 2004 — at about 373,000.
An average of polls conducted in recent days indicate Obama has a lead of about 1.9 percent (though, importantly, there is a margin of error of 3-to-4 points in these polls). Applying these percentages to the 2004 turnout, and Obama has a lead of roughly 143,000 votes. Seventy percent of the GLB vote equals about 261,000.
Similar calculations in North Carolina suggest Obama has roughly a 52,000-vote lead and 70 percent of GLB votes equals about 85,000. In Missouri, Obama has about a 27,000-vote lead and 70 percent of the GLB vote equals about 73,000.
There are a lot of caveats.
The voter turnout in Florida — as well as many, if not most states — is likely to be dramatically larger this year, due to an unprecedented interest in this year’s historic presidential contest and a vigorous effort to register new voters.
While the partisan affiliation in 2004 was roughly one-third Democrat, one-third Republican, and one-third Independent, the affiliations this year are much more heavily Democratic (37 percent to Republican 28 percent), according to Harvard professor Sunshine Hillygus.
There were also questions raised as to whether LGBT Democrats who supported Hillary Clinton over Barack Obama during the heavily contested Democratic primary would unanimously shift to Obama during the general election. But there has been little evidence to the contrary.
A Web-based survey in early August, two months after Obama secured the nomination, showed 68 percent of GLB voters were backing Obama — a percentage consistent with previous presidential votes.
Mark Walsh, who headed up Clinton’s LGBT voter drive, is now actively organizing for Obama, doing events and organizing for him in Pennsylvania, Illinois, and Massachusetts, and get-out-the-vote work for him in South Beach, Florida, during the final days.
"I’m sure there are folks who are not" onboard the Obama campaign, said Walsh, "but there’s not one person on the Clinton LGBT steering committee who has not come around and really become active in the [Obama] campaign."
Information about the LGBT Republicans has been more muddled. The Web-based survey of 178 self-identified LGBT voters in early August suggested that the percentage planning to vote for McCain was only 10 percent — down significantly from 23 and 25 percent of presidential election voting.
That survey clashed against national Log Cabin President Patrick Sammon’s strong statements of support for McCain and the national Log Cabin board’s 12-to-2 vote to endorse the McCai-Palin ticket.
Interviews with Log Cabin chapter representatives in nine states this week indicate that gay Republicans are solidly behind McCain — with a few exceptions.
Patrick Howell, president of the Log Cabin chapter in Orlando, Fla., said he thinks the majority of Orlando’s members will vote for McCain and that more will vote for McCain than did for Bush in 2004.
"In 2004," said Howell, "George Bush was supporting the Federal Marriage Amendment and Log Cabin felt like he was using gay people as a wedge issue." The national Log Cabin board declined to endorse Bush in 2004, he noted.
"We do have disagreements now and then with [Sen. McCain]," said Cheak Yee of the San Diego club, "but he has always been a big-tent inclusive Republican."
Howell, Yee and other Log Cabin chapter representatives around the country said they think most gay Republicans see McCain and Obama as only moderately different on gay-related issues. They prefer McCain for reasons related to national security and taxes.
But several said they believe a significant number of their members might not vote for McCain this year and that many of those might vote for Obama. The primary reason? Vice presidential running mate Sarah Palin.
Truman Smith, president of the South Carolina chapter of Log Cabin, said about 85 percent of his members favored endorsing McCain back in August, but only "a little more than 50 percent" do now.
"Support here has dropped since Palin," he said.
That’s because Palin supports amending the federal constitution to ban gay marriage and because she’s perceived as being unqualified for the vice presidency. Some who have concerns about Palin will vote for Obama, said Smith, and some will simply not vote.
Dennis Sanders, past president of the Minnesota Log Cabin chapter, said he, too, thinks there may be some defection.
"There is some discouragement with the [Republican] campaign," said Sanders. "Some questions regarding Sarah Palin and some of her views," he said.
He and a few others interviewed said they would vote for Obama, "grudgingly."
"I’d rather be voting for McCain," said Sanders, "but there are a few factors — including Palin — that have made me less inclined to vote for McCain. I want to vote for him. I personally like him. But, at this point, I think the thing that has been the block for me has been his running mate — not that she’s bad person, just that she’s not ready to lead at this point and some of her views on social issues are not where I’d support."
As of this week, polls showed six states where the margins between the two candidates was less than 5 percentage points, with a margin of error in those polls of between three and four points. Those six are: Florida, Missouri, North Carolina, Indiana, Nevada, and Montana.
Based on an analysis of several recent polls in each of these states, Real Clear Politics, a Web-based political analysis site, characterizes these as "toss-ups."
But the size and likely break-down of the LGBT vote in the latter three states — Indiana, Nevada, and Montana — is not large enough to account for the current gaps between the two candidates.
"The LGBT vote is one of the most reliably partisan votes of any [constituency] in the country," said Gary Gates, a senior research fellow at the Williams Institute and a leading expert on LGBT demographics. "It’s generally 3 to 1."
Gates said he would expect a similar breakdown with the Obama-McCain match-up, saying "If [John] Kerry couldn’t steal away votes [from President Bush], I’m not sure why Obama would get dramatically bigger proportions [against McCain]."