Maybe they should have called Barack Obama the homosexual “Black Abe Lincoln.”
Buried in the polls showing that Obama’s same-sex marriage support has had no effect on his own re-election prospects (debunking the myth that his gay support would hurt him) and that it seems to have moved “strong support” for marriage equality positively is this gem: a majority of African Americans now support marriage equality, according to a just published poll for ABC News.
This is pretty big news, considering lower support for gay rights by black people than by white people has been (mistakenly and disproportionately) blamed for passing Prop 8 in California, used (unsuccessfully) as a wedge to try to stop the Marriage Equality Act from passing here in New York by Rev. Sen. Ruben Diaz, and touted by cultural critic Touré as a black voter death knell right after the President’s coming out just two weeks ago. Like Touré, even the National Organization for Marriage believed the divide was so great between these two groups that their key to victory would be to “drive a wedge between gays and blacks.”
To get to the bottom of this, the Voice spoke with the man behind the poll, Gary Langer, the President of Langer Research Associates and pollster for ABC News.
Before we called Langer, we read this almost hard to believe segment from ABC’s overview of his poll (emphasis added):
Notably among groups, 59 percent of African-Americans in this survey express support for gay marriage – up from 41 percent in combined ABC/Post polls this spring and last summer. Likewise, 65 percent support Obama’s new position on the issue. The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People announced its support for gay marriage last weekend.
Fewer whites, 46 percent, approve of Obama’s announcement, and 50 percent support gay marriage – numerically (albeit not statistically significantly) the fewest since 2010.
Having been engaged in conversations in print and on the radio for years now about how the woes of gays should be laid at the feet of blacks (who, the argument went, were never as supportive of gays as whites), we almost couldn’t believe what we were reading, even though we predicted the Obama Effect and have seen it play out over the past two weeks as black political and cultural leaders as diverse as the NAACP and 50 Cent have followed the president’s lead and come out for same-sex marriage.
So to get a better understanding of what was happening, we reached Langer by phone. Our first question was about methodology. The ABC News story said the polling sample was 1,004 adults, but how many black people did that include?
Langer explained that 103 black people participated in the survey, and while he admitted that number was “small,” it was also represented an “extremely significant” change of African American support of same-sex marriage compared to polling samples of similar sizes over the past couple of years.
“One thing I’d point out is that we had a similar result on a different question with a different survey last week,” he said, pointing to this poll which asked about how people felt about Obama’s gay marriage position (emphasis added):
Just 41 percent of African-Americans supported gay marriage in ABC/Post polls in mid-2011 and early 2012. Yet 54 percent express a favorable view of his position on the issue in this poll – suggesting that, for some, allegiance to Obama may have prompted a rethink on the issue itself.
At the same time, among whites, support for gay marriage was 9 points higher in March than are positive responses to Obama’s position now, 54 percent vs. 45 percent, apparently indicating the opposite effect.
Langer explained to us that last week, the data proved what we’d suspected: anyone who said Obama’s evolution would cost him black support was wrong. Even if they didn’t agree with him, black voters approved of his position more than white voters did, even though (at that point, anyhow) white voters had supported same-sex marriage more than black voters.
This week, another shift has occurred. Langer explains that it appears black voters “have shown a more favorable position to Obama’s position on the issue. In this fresh poll, which shows a fairly dramatic increase [in support for same-sex marriage] for African Americans, it would appear that African Americans are taking a cue on the issue from President Obama, of whom they are very broadly supportive.”
But white voters have not reacted in exactly the same way. Langer observed, “We noted it last week that while the president’s announcement has apparently had a positive effect on African Americans, the effet on whites may — may, the data are not clear — might be more slightly in the opposite direction.”
The Obama Effect may have been the tipping point to bring black support for gay marriage into the majority. But will he lose white support along the way?
Langer says it’s not as simple as just the gay question: “you see a net positive reaction from blacks, who are very supportive of the president, and a very slightly negative response from whites, are less supportive of the president.”
Our own analysis on this dynamic comes down to this: black voters, 95 percent or so who voted for Obama and roughly the same percent who still support him today, are apt to be more forgiving to him than just about any constituency. As a population, black voters have suffered terribly high rates of unemployment and foreclosure, and they’re still with the president. As we predicted, they wouldn’t kick him to the curb over gay marriage; they’d evolve with him, and still support him, much as they’ve supported every other black political leader who was for same-sex marriage before the president.
White voters, on the other hand, are not nearly as supportive of the president in general. When a poll by the Times and CBS found that 67 percent of Americans think Obama’s “evolution” was done “mostly for political reasons,” that was sure to create a deleterious effect on some voters’ thoughts on the motivations and reasoning for same-sex marriage approval by the president. The white voters who were for same-sex marriage but not for Obama — or who were on the fence about it — may have been turned off by what they perceived as lobbying by powerful gays and pandering by Obama.
And yet, because, practically speaking, black voters are nearly exclusively behind the president and will forgive him just about anything, this didn’t happen with them. There wasn’t much hand wringing about his motivations. Their support for his position on gay marriage, regardless of their own, went to 54 percent last week and 65 percent this week. Quite naturally, their own support went up, too as they reconsidered their stance in light of their president’s endorsement, mirroring what Public Policy Polling found in Pennsylvania this week:
Langer says two big picture items need to be kept in mind. First, when it comes to gay rights, “What this tells us is that changes in attitudes don’t occur in a vacuum, but they happen through political leadership, to some extent.”
Also, he stressed to us, the biggest trend shows “a big change. There’s been a real sea change in the public on this over the years. Regardless of these crosscurrents, the overall takeaway is that a majority for more than a year, year and a half now have been in support of same-sex marriage.”
And, with the leadership of the first black President, this majority American support appears to now include a majority of African Americans, too.