Friday, August 06, 2004
It looks like the gay marriage issue might be returning to the political headlines. Last Tuesday's primary in Missouri resulted in overwhelming support for a state constitutional ban, with unusually high turnout. Some of that voter participation might have been due to the Democratic primary's competitiveness (the incumbent Governor was unseated!), but not all of it.
The concern is this: the gay marriage issue might bring lots of Republicans to the polls, and cost us dearly among the working class whites that are crucial to Kerry's election. I think this is a potentially big problem and requires some real thought. But it may not be as large a problem as we suspect.
There are two issues at stake: increased Republican turnout, and the defection of Democratic and swing voters. First to the issue of turnout: it is quite possible that gay marriage motivated a large number of voters to show up at the primary. But you need to remember that these are habitual voters- they are people who are likely to vote in the Presidential election. It is a far easier to task to get habitual voters to participate in a primary than get non-voters to participate in a general election. So I think this concern is over-stated.
I am not worried at all about the defection of Democrats. I suspect that the vote for the ban was driven in part by african-american ballots. They may be on Bush's side on THIS issue, but I doubt that gay marriage is of such salience to cause the loss of core Democratic supporters.
The real risk, then, is the swing vote. And here we might have a legitimate problem. Democrats cannot win the election without being competitive among white working class voters. Gore's failure here is what cost him Missouri last time. So the question is whether gay marriage will be an issue of sufficient power to overshadow the economic and foreign policy blunders of the Bush administration. This simply gets us back where we started- Republicans have to change the subject to cultural issues, or the war on terrorism, or they will be defeated.
Kerry's strategy on this issue is a good one. He is not talking about the issue, which is precisely the correct move. To address it is to raise the issue profile of gay marriage, which is what we don't want to do. He also has a clever position: he is opposed to a constitutional amendment and thinks it should be left up the states, even while personally rejecting gay marriage and supporting civil unions.
Which I think is where the majority of the American people are.