Thursday, May 05, 2011


Minnesotan Marriage Ban Is Early Favorite

It now seems likely that Minnesotan voters will vote in 2012 on a constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage. If you have been following the national polls and punditry, you might be led to believe that the amendment will probably fail. At this point, however, I would put the money on it to pass. Why?

1. The latest polling (I could find) discovered that more Minnesotans are against same-sex marriage than are for it. The poll from September 2010 found that among likely voters 49% opposed same-sex marriage, while 41% were for legalizing same-sex marriage. Reallocating undecideds based on decided voters (as there is no undecided when it comes time to vote), 54% of Minnesotans are against legalizing same-sex marriage.

Some might point to a 2006 poll, which indicated that even though most Minnesotans were against same-sex marriage, they would vote against a constitutional amendment to ban it. The fact is that polling before the California's infamous Prop. 8, a constitutional ban against gay marriage, polling suggested a similar split*: a number of Californians who were against same-sex marriage would vote against Prop. 8. In the end, most voters against same-sex marriage, but also against the amendment, voted for Prop. 8. I would expect a similar trend in Minnesota.

2. Minnesotan demographics indicate that the amendment is likely to pass. Take a modification of Nate Silver's same-sex marriage model that controls for a state's religiosity, a state's median voter's level of conservatism on social issues (with -2 being very liberal to 2 being very conservative), the year of the election, whether the election was held during an off-year or non-Presidential primary, and whether the ballot measure sought to ban same-sex marriage and civil unions or just same-sex marriage.

64% of Minnesotans consider religion to be an important part of their lives; Minnesotans' tend to be quite moderate on social issues (with a score of -.08); 2012 is 15 years after the first gay marriage amendment nationwide; 2012 is not an off-year; and, the measure seeks only to ban same-sex marriage. Given these variable values, the model projects the marriage amendment to pass with a little over 56% of the vote (quite close to the 54% polling number above).

Ah, but only if it were so easy to predict. Points 1 and 2 come with some caveats that deserve explanation.

1. Like the rest of the nation, support for same-sex marriage legalization seems to be increasing. In the aforementioned 2006 poll, only 29% of Minnesotan voters** supported gay marriage, while 54% opposed. That means that in 4 years, support climbed 12%, while opposition dropped by 5%. If that trend continued over the next 2 years, we'd be looking at an electorate that evenly split on the marriage question come 2012.

2. The demographic model has a within dataset margin of error at 95% of about +/- 8.3%. The model is telling us that it is not unreasonable (even if unlikely) that the Minnesotan same-sex marriage ban fails with 49%. For Maine's 2009 same-sex marriage referendum, the model out-of-dataset forecasted the ban to fail with a little greater than 47% of the vote, but it actually passed with a little less than 53% of the vote (an error of about 5.5%).

Keeping these qualifications in mind, I should drive home the point that past history does not look too kindly upon the pro-same-sex marriage side.

As I had previously found and Patrick Egan has expanded upon, same-sex marriage ballot questions tend, if anything, to do worse on election day than pre-election polls predict. In fact, Egan found the bans ("yes" side) picked up, on average, 7% support from the final polls, while the "no" side picked up no appreciable support. In Minnesota, therefore, we might expect the ban to pass in the high 50's, instead of the 54% projected above.

Further, Egan demonstrated that campaigns have little effect on the outcome. The polls six months before the election occur were about as accurate as those right before the election. While October 2010 is far more than six months out from 2012, I would imagine that the swing in favor of same-sex marriage (and against the ban) will probably not advance to the point that two sides reach equality in vote share as spoken about above.

Given all this information, the ban side seems to have the edge. The election will not take place until 2012 and many things may change. Minnesota may defy the trend, but I would not count on it.


* The two situations are not exactly similar, however. Without the constitutional amendment, California would have continued to allow same-sex marriages. Even if the marriage amendment fails in Minnesota, state law bans same-sex marriage. Perhaps, more of the "no to marriage, but no ban" folks will vote against the amendment in Minnesota.

** The sample population for the two polls are not the same. The 2010 poll employed a likely voter sample, while the 2006 sample utilized a registered voter model. 2010 was a very Republican year, so it is probable that the electorate was more liberal in 2006 and is more liberal in 2012. That makes the gains in support of same-sex marriage between 2006 and 2010 more impressive and means that new polling for 2012 might reveal a closer election than the 2010 poll indicated.

I think Nate suggested making an input rural/urban after his failure in Maine!Would that detract?
That would not make a difference... The variable is not significant. In the case of Maine, the only thing that would have worked was knowing the polling data and how to use it. Please see this post (
MN has what is called the Gateway Amendment which means a constitutional amendment needs a majority of those voting in the election voting for the Amendment. Not voting equates to a no vote. There is usually a drop off from top of the ticket to the bottom where the amendments are. This this means an amendment needs around 57% affirmative voting to pass Steve Frank
It seems to me that this analysis is lacking on a number of fronts. First, there is Steve Frank's point above, which is obviously material to any prediction and which distinguishes the MN vote from any of the 3 state votes that Mr. Enten previously examined with his model.

Second, Mr. Enten does not seem to deal with whether a referendum to amend the state constitution (as opposed to enacting a statutory ban or, as was the case in Maine, vetoing a statute passed by the legislature) skews toward a "no" vote. I believe that it does to the tune of 5%.

Third, Mr. Enten does not consider whether the superfluous nature of the proposed amendment could impact results. Absent a "yes" vote, gay marriage would have continued to be a reality in CA and would have become a reality in ME the day after election day. By contrast, MN is in no "danger" of allowing its gay citizens to marry and in fact has a statutory ban in place. No court case is looming that would threaten the statutory ban. The proponents are seeking to amend the constitution "just in case" some threat should arise in the future.

Fourth, any good analysis would need to adjust for expected partisan turnout. The electorate in 2012 may look more like the electorate of 2006 than of 2010. Moreover, as the GOP controls both houses of the MN legislature, any anti-incumbent sentiment would redound to the Democrats' (and thus the anti-amendment) side.

Fifth, Mr. Enten's model omits age as a factor. As turnout increases, the average age of the voter decreases. This was a major reason that the proponents in Maine rushed to get their petition in. They wanted a vote in 2009, an off-off year with the lowest (and oldest) historical turnout.
Joseph, thanks for writing in. I didn't cover Mr. Frank's point because it would be nearly impossible to take into account. My guess is that while the Gateway Amendment is in effect this issue is going to be pretty darn important. The people who vote for it are going to know about it when they enter the booth. It's like some referendum about the water commission.

It's not 3 states. It's over 30.

Second, it does not. I could have added that variable and did. No difference.

Third, I mentioned your point. Please read the post again. There's no real way to test this in a model, unfortunately.

Fourth, the model actually adjusts for turnout. There's a variable for off-year elections. Beyond that, I'm not one in making predictions about turnout in 2012 vs. 2008. My guess is that it makes little difference, except on the margins. You're mistaking a higher Democratic turnout for a higher no-vote. True that Democrats will be against the ban in higher numbers, but blacks and latinos (due to their religiosity) tend to vote for bans in higher numbers than other Democrats.

Five, age makes no factor in the model. Tested it.
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