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Why Did LGBT Voters Move to GOP in 2010?

Initial figures of LGBT voters showed they shunned Democrats in this medterm election:

The number seemed startling: 31 percent of voters who identified as “gay, lesbian, bisexual” in a national exit poll on November 2 said they voted Republican. Just two years ago, only 19 percent voted for Republican presidential candidate John McCain.

When precinct-level data was analyzed and then weighted, these exit polls seemed to be close to the money:

Keen News Service looked at the vote November 2 in precincts in heavily gay neighborhoods in six cities around the country. That data suggests the gay vote for Republicans was 26 percent. But that 26 percent represents a seven percent increase over how those same precincts voted in the 2006 midterm elections.

And when you consider that the national exit poll data was re-weighted a few days after the election so it would correspond with actual election results – meaning the estimate of the gay vote for Republicans is now calculated at 29 percent – then the two data sets are not that far off.

Furthermore, notes Patrick Egan, a public opinion specialist and professor at New York University, both sets of data show a relatively similar shift. Between 2006 and 2010, the exit poll data showed a shift of about five points toward voting Republican. The gay precinct data showed a shift of about seven points.

The two very different polling methods produced very similar results about gay voters moving to the GOP:

The national exit poll data was collected by an independent firm, Edison Research, for a coalition of national news organizations called the National Election Pool. This year’s data was based on information collected from 17,504 voters as they left 268 polling places around the country on November 2. To collect data from the many voters who vote absentee, by mail, or early, the researchers also interviewed another 1,601 voters by phone. How the gay or lesbian voter cast his or her ballot in the House race determined how they were scored in the exit poll. The re-weighted exit polling data can be viewed at CNN’s website.

The gay precinct data was collected from election officials and/or their websites for Boston, Chicago, Dallas, Provincetown, San Francisco, and South Beach. Precincts were chosen in neighborhoods which local gay activists or newspaper editors had identified as heavily gay populated. The data covered a total of 20,882 voters in 34 precincts.

With the gay precinct data, one city, Boston, posed a problem because its House race involved an unopposed Democratic incumbent. However, a look at how gay precincts voted in the governor’s race indicated a similar increase (6.7 percent) – from 13.9 percent Republican in 2006 to 20.6 percent in 2010.

Unfortunately for Democratic candidates and officeholders who blow smoke on gay rights at election time, it looks like gay voters pay attention, and have paid attention in the past. Performance matters to this voting bloc, and we punish non-performers:

Perhaps the biggest surprise of all in gay voting data, however, comes from looking at a chart published by the New York Times of all the national exit polling data collected which included “gay, lesbian, and bisexual” voter identification. It shows that the largest gay vote for Republicans was not in 2010, but in 1998. That’s the year voters shifted away from Republicans, many believe because of the unpopularity of the Republican-led impeachment proceedings against Democratic President Bill Clinton. But that was also just two years after Congress passed – and Clinton signed – the Defense of Marriage Act, and the exit poll data showed that 33 percent of the gay vote went to Republicans.

Lisa Keen wisely wonders what lies ahead for a Democratic party that fails to deliver for a core voting bloc they may have taken for granted one too many times:

But there are questions that loom inside the data. Will the swing of gay voters toward Republicans again last for two election cycles – 2010 and 2012 – as it did in 1998 and 2000? Will the potential failure to pass repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” act like a catalyst for gay Republican voting as DOMA did in 1998? The numbers don’t say.

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