Issue:  Vol. 48 / No. 7 / 15 February 2018

Gays mostly vote Democratic, figures show


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Caveats can be paralyzing to voter analysis. Exit polls capture a random sample but, when it comes to the "lesbian, gay, and bisexual" vote, tend to be more heavily bisexual. Vote tallies from heavily gay precincts can capture the actual vote of a much larger sample of people but tend to be more white, gay, male, metropolitan, and wealthy and are muddled by the votes of at least an equal number of heterosexuals.

But comparing exit polls and precinct data from election to election can produce some relatively interesting nuggets.

For instance, on November 4, 90 percent of voters in five heavily gay precincts in Washington, D.C., voted for Democrat Barack Obama; 8 percent voted for Republican John McCain; 2 percent for others. In the year 2000, when Democrat Al Gore ran against Republican George W. Bush, the vote in these same precincts went 78 percent for Gore, 10 percent for Bush, and 12 percent for others. That would seem to suggest that there may have been a segment of LGBT voters who switched from third party candidates to Democrat this year.

But, wait, said LGBT demographic expert Gary Gates of UCLA's Williams Institute in California. Washington, D.C., is a heavily African American community (57 percent). So the increased percentage going into the Democratic column this year could be reflecting the city's overall overwhelming support of the first African American major party candidate.

O.K., what about Boston, where the population is 56 percent white?

There, 85 percent voted for Obama, 14 percent for McCain, and 1 percent for others this year. In 2000, 79 percent voted for Gore, 14 percent for Bush, and 7 percent for others.

In San Francisco, where the population is 50 percent white, 38 percent Asian, and 8 percent black, 94 percent of voters in heavily gay precincts voted for Obama this year, compared to 78 percent for Gore in 2000. Four percent voted for McCain this year, compared to 7 percent for Bush in 2000. And only 2 percent voted for third party candidates this year, compared to about 15 percent who did in 2000.

So, there would appear to be evidence to suggest that a greater percentage of the LGBT vote went to the Democratic presidential candidate this year, compared to past years, and that the increase came from voters who had previously supported third party candidates. In fact, in most heavily gay precincts in most cities, the number of people voting for third party candidates never got above 1 percent.

In Philadelphia's heavily gay precincts, 86 percent voted for Obama, 13 percent for McCain, and only one percent for others.

In Provincetown, Massachusetts, 88 percent voted Obama, 11 percent for McCain, and only 1 percent for others.

In Dallas, 64 percent in heavily gay precincts voted for Obama, 35 percent for McCain, and 1 percent for others. In Houston, 66 percent of heavily gay precinct voters supported Obama, 33 percent McCain, and 1 percent others.

In West Hollywood, 88 percent voted Obama, 11 percent McCain, 1 percent others. In five heavily gay precincts of the Silver Lake section of Los Angeles, 87 percent voted for Obama, 11 percent for McCain, 2 percent for others.

In three heavily gay precincts of Key West, Florida, 68 percent voted for Obama, 31 percent for McCain, and 1 percent for others. In South Beach, 72 percent of voters supported Obama, 27 percent McCain, and 1 percent supported others.

That part essentially mirrors the country. Just over 1 percent of voters nationwide supported third party candidates.

More Democratic

But the LGBT vote was more strongly Democratic than voters overall. American voters overall gave 53 percent of their vote to Obama and 46 percent to McCain. Looking at 80,586 votes cast in 56 heavily gay precincts over 11 cities in four states and the District of Columbia, 79.4 percent voted for Obama, 19.1 percent for McCain, and 1.5 percent for others.

Exit poll data from the national media shows a roughly similar split among voters who identified as gay, lesbian, or bisexual: 70 percent Obama, 27 percent McCain, and 3 percent others. That compares with:

- 1996, when incumbent Democrat Bill Clinton won 71 percent of the LGB vote, compared to Republican Bob Dole's 16 percent, and 13 percent for others.

- 2000, when Democrat Gore won 70 percent of the LGB vote to Republican Bush's 25 percent, and 5 percent for others.

"There's remarkable continuity," said Patrick Egan, a professor of politics and an analyst specializing in LGBT voting patterns. "About three-fourths vote Democratic and one-fourth Republican from year to year."

The exit poll data was gathered on behalf of the National Election Pool, a coalition of ABC, CBS, CNN, Fox, NBC, and the Associated Press. The polling firm of Edison Media Research collected the data at 1,300 precincts around the country, involving every state; but, more sampling was done in the most competitive states. Out of 17,836 people polled, about 4 percent checked off "gay, lesbian, or bisexual" on their exit poll. That would seem to calculate out to about 713 people. But Egan said it's really not that simple.

"You can't make the assumption – 4 percent times 17,836 equals 713 people," said Egan, because the poll wasn't done that simply. Instead, the exit poll included about 12,000 people nationally from a representative sample of 1,300 precincts.

"Most of the respondents are asked their sexual orientation, but not all," he explained. Some get asked other questions instead, like union membership or gun ownership. The true sample of LGB voters is probably smaller than 713, says Egan – around 200 to 300 voters.

"But that's as close to a representative sample as we're going to get," he said.

The national polling sample was supplemented with statewide polls, where the sexual orientation question was asked only in states of high LGB populations.

CNN's exit poll results, available online, show the sexual orientation question was asked in statewide polling in Massachusetts (where 6 percent of respondents said they were LGB), California (5 percent), Illinois and New York (3 percent each), and Maryland (1 percent). Going by those percentages, those statewide polls alone garnered results from 261 LGB people.

Demographer Gates agrees that the LGB vote "has been absolutely consistent since 1992, a three to one split."

But the exit poll data has its limits, too, said Gates. The polls ask only whether a voter is "lesbian, gay, or bisexual" and "a lot of surveys find that bisexuals comprise a very large – in some cases half – of that sample."

And the difficulty with that, he said, is that "bisexuals look more like heterosexuals in the voting booth than gays and lesbians."

"My suspicion," said Gates, "is that, if we got the gay and lesbian vote, it would be more Democratic."

One last number: 5 million. That's how many LGB voters there likely were –according to the exit polls – among the 125 million people who voted November 4.

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