Thursday, February 19, 2009
The Gay vote and the 2008 Democratic Primary (paper)
The 2008 Democratic Presidential Primary season will go down as one of the most fascinating of all time. Senator Barack Obama shocked the political world by defeating front-runner and former first lady, Senator Hillary Clinton. During the campaign, Obama and Clinton traded victories from state to state. Although they each fought for every single vote, some general coalitions did emerge. Clinton victories involved a coalition of Hispanics, senior citizens, and working class whites; while Obama depended on blacks, youths, and upper class whites. Though most political experts would agree with these groupings, they continue to disagree about how another smaller group of voters cast their votes during the primary season: Gays. Most public data, including a national pre-primary poll and exits polls from New York and California, appears to support the belief that Clinton won the vast majority of the Gay vote (“Election” and “Hunter”). However, some analysts have looked at this data and believe it to be riddled with errors. They charge that the national poll had a pro-Clinton bias, was overly female, and was overly bisexual in comparison to homosexual (Sullivan). Some pundits also contend that the exit poll in California is much more favorable for Clinton than the district by district analysis reveals, and that homosexuals in other states may have voted differently than New York and California Gays (Crain and Keen “Dallas”). The purpose of this paper is two-fold: 1) to examine the accuracy of the national poll and exits polls in order to 2) investigate if Gay southern voters voted substantially differently than their counterparts in New York and California. If it can be shown that Gays tend to vote similarly, regardless of geographic location, then one can state that Clinton had the Gay vote. I conclude that the polls were accurate and that no evidence exists to suggest that Gay southern voters voted differently than Gays in other parts of the country; therefore, Hillary Clinton did win a sizable majority of Gay voters across the country.
The only national poll of the Gay population shows that Hillary Clinton had a large advantage over Barack Obama in comparison to the general population (“Hunter”). This poll done by Hunter College in association with Knowledge Networks and sponsored by the Human Rights Campaign was conducted from November 15 - 26, 2007 (“Hunter”). Done over the Internet, it was performed among 501 men and women who identified themselves as gay, lesbian, and bisexual (“Hunter”). Respondents were selected from among the more than 50,000 people sector of the Knowledge Networks’ respondents’ panel (Keen “Pridesource”). This panel is representative of the entire United States’ population (Keen “Pridesource”). Upon the polls initial release, it was revealed that the poll was made up of 51.2% female vs. 48.8% male and had 51.1% who identified themselves as homosexual and 49.9% as bisexuals (“Hunter”). The Knowledge Networks’ data indicated that in November 2007, Hillary Clinton would defeat Barack Obama among Gay voters nationwide in the Democratic Primary 63% to 22% with 15% scattered among other candidates and undecided (“Hunter”).
The only two exit polls conducted among the Gay population during the campaign revealed that Hillary Clinton beat Barack Obama by substantial margins in New York and California. Edison-Mitofsky Media Research conducted both exit polls in conjunction with ABC, CBS, CNN, FOX, NBC, and the Associated Press as voters left their polling stations on February 5th, 2008 (“Election”). The New York poll had 1,260 respondents and was made up of 58% female and 42% male with 7% identifying themselves "gay, lesbian, or bisexual" (“Election”). The California poll had 1920 respondents and was made up of 54% female and 46% male with 4% identifying themselves as "gay, lesbian, or bisexual" (“Election”). Clinton won the self-identified "gay, lesbian, or bisexual" vote over Obama in New York 59% to 36% and 63% to 29% in California.
To ensure that these three results were statistically significant, I performed three simple z-tests for two proportions. This test compares the percentage of the respondents favoring Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama and takes into account the sample sizes of each survey. When a result is statistically significant, it means that although the difference in support between the two candidates may be different than what the poll found, it is very likely that the difference did not occur by chance. I found that the difference between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama's percentage in the Knowledge Networks’ poll, New York exit poll, and California exit poll was not due to random chance with greater than 99% confidence. This means that unless the poll was improperly conducted, Hillary Clinton won a higher percentage of the Gay vote nationally and in New York and California than Barack Obama.
Analysis of Knowledge Networks' Poll Criticisms-
Though the Knowledge Networks' poll result was statistically significant, three possible flaws are apparent when trying to use the poll to determine how Gay voters voted in the primary. The first pitfall is that the poll was conducted well before the primaries took place. In November 2007, Barack Obama trailed Hillary Clinton nationally by nearly 25 points (“Washington”). Of course, Obama made up tremendous ground to win the national primary popular vote by less than a point (“Democratic”). Without a later poll of the national Gay population, it is impossible to know for certain if such a shift also occurred nationally among Gays. That said, it is probable that even if such a shift occurred, Clinton still would have polled significantly higher than Obama if this poll were conducted later in the primary season as will be explained. If we compare national polls, taken at the time of the Knowledge Networks’ poll, to the final national results, we see that Hillary Clinton actually lost few supporters. In fact, Clinton's 49% in a November 2007 Washington Post poll is nearly identical to her 47.8% percentage of the national primary vote (“Washington”). Thus, Obama was able to close the national popular vote by picking up the vast majority of undecided voters and supporters of other candidates, not by picking up Clinton supporters (Crickmore). If Gay undecided and other candidate supporters also broke towards Obama disproportionally, he still would have only picked up less than 40% of the Gay vote. In fact, the New York and California exit polls taken during the campaign when Obama and Clinton were tied nationally found that Clinton's support among Gay voters was 63% in New York and 59% in California, while Obama's support among Gay voters was 29% and 36% in those two states (“Election”). By working with these percentages, it stands to reason that although Obama did pick up Gay supporters as the campaign went on, Clinton would have won the majority of Gay supporters if the Knowledge Networks’ poll was conducted at the end of the primary season.
The second charge against the Knowledge Networks' poll was that the Human Rights Campaign's (HRC) funding of the poll made it biased towards Hillary Clinton. Andrew Sullivan, a Barack Obama supporter and columnist with the Atlantic Magazine, charged that it was "no big surprise which Democratic candidate won in a landslide: the candidate HRC has been supporting from the start" (Sullivan). As Lisa Keen, columnist for Keen News Services, commented Clinton only "fanned the flames" of bias when she quickly issued a press release "drawing attention to the favorable results" after they were released (Keen “Pridesource”). Charges of bias against a poll are serious and would put the poll results in doubt if true. Yet, the facts of how the poll was conducted tell a different story. One of the creators of the survey, Murray Edelman, professor pollster from Rutgers University and Director of Statistics in the CBS News Election and Survey Unit, states "from the beginning, we made it very clear that this had to be an independent study... I needed it myself because I work with the media and can't be involved with an advocacy group. ...This was not an HRC poll" (Keen “Pridesource”). Although we have no way of knowing for sure whether Edelman is telling the truth, it stands to reason that a member of academia and the head statistician at a major news network would not risk his professional reputation to obtain results that the HRC would find favorable. It should also be noted that it is a common practice for activist groups to hire outside polling companies. For example, the liberal blog Daily Kos hired Research 2000 to conduct national polling during the 2008 campaign, and its final poll numbers actually had Republican John McCain getting a higher percent of the vote than he did (Moulitsas). Finally, other statisticians not associated with the poll in any way have come to its defense. Former vice president and senior editor with the Gallup Poll, David V. Moore notes that "whatever the results, the poll itself deserves careful consideration of all of its findings. The methodology appears to be rigorous" (Moore). Charging bias against a result one may not like is an easy way to dismiss the polls findings. It is clear that this poll’s accuracy was not impeded upon by bias for Hillary Clinton.
The third and final charge against the Knowledge Networks' poll was that the sample contained too many women and self-identified bisexuals, and not enough men and self-identified homosexuals. Andrew Sullivan mocked the poll stating, "I don't know any demographer who thinks that lesbians and gay men have equal numbers in a fictional lesbian-gay community. So the poll is designed to reflect a pre-ordained political "community", rigged for PC purposes to inflate the numbers of bisexuals and lesbians" (Sullivan). At first glance, Sullivan's argument makes some sense, if one believes that he was speaking about bisexuals and lesbians as mutually exclusive. Writer Paul Varnell, an expert on the Gay community and founder of Gay History Month, found after a review of many studies attempting to determine the composition of the Gay population, that "they seem to converge on a finding that there about twice as many gay men as lesbians, no matter what measures are used" (Varnell). The problem with the Sullivan argument is that it was made before the full results of the poll were made available. When Hunter College released the full results of the poll in June 2008, it noted that men made up 68.4% of the self-identified homosexual poll respondents in comparison to 34.7% for women, which is nearly the same two to one margin found in the prior polls (Egan, Edelman, and Sherrill 7). If Sullivan meant to encompass all men as gay who identified as homosexual and bisexual and all women as lesbian who identified as homosexuals and bisexual, his argument still fails. According to a 2002 Centers of Disease Control study, the percentage of homosexual or bisexuals who identified as female was 50.2% to males 48.8%, which is nearly identical to the 51.1% to 48.8% spread found by Knowledge Networks (“NCHS”). As for the argument that too many bisexuals were selected, the Knowledge Networks’ 51.1% homosexual to 48.9% bisexual population actually vastly under represents the self-identified bisexual population by about 20% in comparison to the same Center of Disease Controls study (“NCHS”). What effect this underestimating of the bisexual population had on Knowledge Networks’ study is unknown because they did not release how homosexual vs. bisexual voters split their vote. Regardless of the effect, Sullivan's hypothesis is again wrong. Overall, the Knowledge Networks’ poll seems to have matched the demographics found by prior surveys quite well.
Analysis of Exit Polls Criticisms-
Although less controversy surrounded the exit polls, people still tried to discredit the results. Lisa Keen analyzed 39 districts throughout the country that had "large Gay neighborhoods" (Keen “Dallas”). Her results found a much tighter 52 to 48 margin among voters in Gay districts than either exit poll had (Keen “Dallas”). She feels "all these numbers suggest a much tighter race for Gay support than indicated by an exit poll conducted February 5 in California and New York" (Keen “Dallas”). In California for example, she actually found that Obama led in the districts in and around San Francisco's Castro District with 54% of the votes, while Clinton had 60% of the votes in heavily Gay West Hollywood and Silver Lake (Keen “Dallas”). The problem with concluding much from these numbers is that they do nothing to tell us how homosexual or bisexual voters actually voted. Although homosexuals and bisexuals may live in larger concentrations in certain communities, they are not totally separated from heterosexual voters. Even in the heavily Gay Castro District and surrounding neighborhoods, homosexuals and bisexuals make up 40% of residents at most according to a 2000 San Francisco Call article by award winning writer Betsey Culp (Culp). No one can know for sure how the 60% of heterosexual voters cast their ballot in the Castro in comparison to the 40% of homo or bisexual voters. The same can be said for any district that has a large Gay population. On the other hand, exit poll analysis is much more reliable because it identifies self-identified homo and bisexual voters, and reveals how these voters voted.
The main argument against the exit polls, as Keen implied, was that Gay voters in other states might have voted differently than voters in New York and California. Chris Crain, writer for Blade Magazine and founder of the blog Citizen Crain, expresses the view that homo and bisexual voters in New York and California can afford to look past differences between Clinton and Obama with concern to the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) (Crain). He notes
while gay voters in places like New York and San Francisco may feel the luxury of looking past gay issues in the Democratic primary, those issues hit much closer to home in those states that lack any state or local anti-discrimination laws and where anti-gay bias is a more common occurrence..... I know what life is like for gays who live in my native South, and I've seen firsthand how the issue can rip apart families and friendships. And laws like the Defense of Marriage Act have a direct impact on my life, since my partner and I cannot live together in the U.S. because of it. It makes a real difference to me that Barack Obama favors full repeal of DOMA and Hillary only half, and because she has consistently tried to defend the nefarious law signed by her husband in 1996 (Crain).
Crain's argument is defective for numerous reasons. First, while Clinton did not support a full repudiation of DOMA, she does "support ensuring people in stable, long-term same sex relationships have full equality of benefits, rights, and responsibilities" (Smith). Crain may think that her position to allow states to determine if they want to call same-sex partnerships "marriage" is what is most important in determining a candidate, but the polling numbers disagree. The Knowledge Networks’ national survey found that recognition of same-sex marriage ranked sixth most important to homo and bisexual voters nationwide (Egan, Edelman, and Sherrill 29). Gay voters were more likely to list federal benefits as more important, an issue on which Clinton and Obama did not differ (Egan, Edelman, and Sherrill 29). Crain also failed to point out that Clinton signed a pledge by ACT UP that Obama did not sign to invest 50 billion dollars to combat AIDS throughout the world (Seelye). This same Knowledge Networks’ survey found that Gay voters listed AIDS funding as a higher priority than same sex marriage rights (Egan, Edelman, and Sherrill 29). While one might be tempted to say that this poll result is not representative of the south’s Gays, the plurality of the poll's respondents were from the south (Egan, Edelman, and Sherrill 7). If southern Gay voters were voting on the issues most important to them, it stands to reason that they were as likely to vote for Clinton because of her pledge for AIDS funding as it was for them to vote for Obama because of his position on DOMA. Finally, as previously mentioned, Clinton's percentage of the Gay vote in California and New York matched up very well with her total in the Knowledge Networks’ poll. The exit polls appear to be a good representation of Clinton’s support nationwide. And since southerners were well represented in the Knowledge Networks’ poll, it is probable that results from the Knowledge Networks’ poll and the exit poll, which matched the Knowledge Networks’ results, are representative of how Gays voted in the south.
The purpose of this paper was to investigate the accuracy of the Knowledge Networks’ poll and two exit polls and to determine whether self-identified Gay voters in the south might have voted differently than Gays in other parts of the country in order to understand if Gay voters did favor Hillary Clinton. Prior polling conducted by Knowledge Networks and Edison-Mitofsky that showed Hillary Clinton winning the majority of self-identified "gay, lesbian, and bisexual" voters was found to be statistically significant. The numerous criticisms against these results, such as charges of bias and unrepresentative polling populations, were found to have no merit upon investigation. Therefore, this investigator has concluded that Hillary Clinton did win a sizable majority of Gay voters across the country.
It is important to recognize that this is an analysis of self-identified "gay, lesbian, and bisexual" voters. It is quite possible that a population exists of voters that may not self-identify as part of this group, but may be part of it. These voters could have voted in a way entirely different than that of the self-identified population. Unfortunately, it will never be possible to do an investigation of these voters because they refuse to be identified as Gay. This investigation also does not include voters that identify as transgendered. The purpose of this analysis was to look at how people of stated different sexual orientations voted, not at how people of different gender identities voted. Like unidentified homo or bisexual voters, transgendered voters might have voted in a different way than self-identified "gay, lesbian, and bisexual" voters. It will be interesting to see if future polling tries to reach this group and ascertain its political opinions.
One final note is that the 2008 election cycle was a milestone for the polling of Gay Americans. For the first time, a comprehensive national primary poll was conducted to explore not only how Gay voters voted, but also where they were from, and what issues were important to them. This legitimizes gays, lesbians, and bisexuals as a section of the electorate whose needs politicians must be aware of. It is important and necessary that pollsters continue to poll and analyze the Gay vote. This group is a unique part of the national electorate and must have its voice heard.
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