Academic journal article Political Research Quarterly

Are Blacks and Latinos Responsible for the Passage of Proposition 8? Analyzing Voter Attitudes on California's Proposal to Ban Same-Sex Marriage in 2008

Academic journal article Political Research Quarterly

Are Blacks and Latinos Responsible for the Passage of Proposition 8? Analyzing Voter Attitudes on California's Proposal to Ban Same-Sex Marriage in 2008

Article excerpt

Abstract

On November 4, 2008, the majority of California's electorate supported a ban on same-sex marriage. Anecdotal evidence attributes its passage to increased turnout among black and Latino voters. This article determines whether this was so; it also examines whether blacks and Latinos were more likely than whites to oppose same-sex marriage, even when accounting for religiosity and political attitudes. Had black and Latino turnout remained at the same level as in the 2004 presidential election, Proposition 8 would still have passed. Moreover, blacks were more likely to favor a ban on same-sex marriage when compared to whites.

Keywords

same-sex marriage, voting, California, race/ethnicity, Proposition 8

The 2008 general election will be most remembered for the election of the nation's first African American president, Barack Obama. However, several statewide races were also in the spotlight-most notably, the battle over same-sex marriage continued to be a salient issue in California. While 61 percent of the state's voters in 2000 cast their ballots in favor of Proposition 22, which would have amended the state's Family Code to "only recognize marriage between a man and a woman," the California Supreme Court struck down the initiative as unconstitutional on May 16, 2008.1 In less than a month's time, opponents of same-sex marriage were able to get their initiative (known as Proposition 8) on the 2008 general election ballot.

On November 4, 2008, the majority of California's voters supported a ban on same-sex marriage, 52 percent to 48 percent. Based on National Election Pool (NEP) estimates, 70 percent of blacks cast their ballot in favor of Proposition 8, while 49 percent of whites, 53 percent of Latinos, 49 percent of Asians, and 51 percent from those of another racial/ethnic identity supported a ban on gay marriage.2 In light of these results, the media reports that immediately followed the election concluded that opposition from Latino and black voters led to the passage of Proposition 8.3 For instance, one media report notes that the "record turnout of black and Hispanic voters . . . [was] instrumental in the passage of Proposition 8."4 Given the historic nature of the presidential general election, black turnout rates increased by 4 percentage points when compared to their turnout rates in 2004. Currently, blacks are 10 percent of the California electorate. The share of the Latino electorate also increased from its 2004 figure, jumping from 13 to 18 percent of voters in California. While the existing research has found that states using ballot initiatives exhibit higher rates of turnout (M. A. Smith 2001; Tolbert, Grummel, and Smith 2001; Tolbert and Smith 2005) than states without the initiative process, this landmark election appears to have generated the opposite effect.

Thus, the conventional wisdom regarding the passage of Proposition 8 can be summarized in the following way-had Obama not competed in the general election, turnout for these two groups would have been at their usual rates, and thus Proposition 8 would have failed. Were racial/ethnic minorities more likely to support Proposition 8 than nonminorities, even when accounting for their religiosity and political beliefs? This article addresses this question by analyzing voter attitudes toward Proposition 8 both prior to and on the day of the election. The pre-election analyses consist of two statewide public opinion polls that included questions on attitudes toward same-sex marriage. One was conducted in May 2008, and the other went into the field just one month prior to the general election. To understand voter preferences as they left the polls on the day of the election, I analyze exit poll data conducted by the Leavey Center for the Study of Los Angeles (LCSLA). These are the best available data on voters as they left the polls on Election Day, as the 2008 NEP data have yet to be publicly released.5 Finally, to determine whether increased turnout among black and Latino voters is responsible for Proposition 8's passage, I calculate the black and Latino vote on Proposition 8 based on their 2004 levels of voting. …

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