LGBT community expected to work for Obama re-election
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Mike Testa thinks a gay Republican is an oxymoron.
An activist for gay rights, Mr. Testa spends his down time lobbying for marriage equality and other gay rights on the state level, but these days one of his major concerns is getting President Barack Obama re-elected in November.
Mr. Obama's campaign is taking advantage of the LGBT community's energy during Pride Month, which takes place across the country in June. Obama Pride, an LGBT-outreach arm of the campaign, launched in May just after the president's statement of support for marriage equality. Since then, the campaign has held voter registrations, phone banks and volunteer sign-ups in several states, including Ohio, Nevada and Florida. The goal is to make sure LGBT voters show up to vote in November.
"I'm a business owner, and I do like some Republican business thinking," said Mr. Testa, CEO of his own consulting company. Still, he said he could never vote for Mitt Romney. "It would put us back in the Stone Age."
But during the 2010 midterm elections, gay Republicans weren't quite so hard to find. According to CNN exit polls, 29 percent of self-identifying LGBT voters went Republican -- one of the highest percentages ever, and a change from 2008, when 81 percent of LGBT voters chose Mr. Obama. Patrick Egan, who researches the political activism of the LGBT community at New York University, said gay voters have voted between 20 and 30 percent Republican since the 1980s -- "and if it's a particularly good moment for Republicans," Democrats can and do lose gay votes.
Gary Gates, a demographer at the Williams Institute at UCLA, concluded last year that about 3.8 percent of the population -- 4 million people -- are LGBT. Around 3 percent of registered couples in Pennsylvania are same-sex, according to Mr. Gates' institute.
Mary McThomas, a professor of political science at Mississippi State, studied the possible impact of the gay vote on the election. In the wake of the shift in 2010, she said the gay vote could make a difference electorally despite the small size of the community.
"Where this community comes into play is where you have tight races," Mr. Gates said.
LGBT citizens are already a political community, said Mr. Egan, so they are receptive to Democratic efforts to engage the base. He found in a 2008 study that gay voters are more politically active than the average straight voter is: In the past year, nearly 40 percent of gay respondents had participated in a civic activity, like writing a congressperson, compared with 30 percent of straight respondents.
But gay voters aren't the only ones who can be reached during Pride Month -- potential allies have their votes up for grabs as well. According to the latest Franklin & Marshall College poll, 47 percent of Pennsylvanians said they thought Mr. Obama's views on gay marriage lined up with theirs, compared to 37 percent who agreed with Mr. Romney's position. The state's results parallel trends of greater support for same-sex marriage nationally: A May 2012 Gallup poll found that 50 percent of Americans believe same-sex marriage is moral, compared to 48 percent who do not.
Terry Madonna, who developed the Franklin & Marshall poll, said that he thinks the economy will affect more votes than gay marriage as a single issue. But the packaging of social issues collectively -- of which LGBT rights are one category -- still matters "to motivate a group of people who are not nearly as motivated to vote for [Mr. Obama] as they were in 2008," he said.
And focusing on social issues can also move discussion away from tough economic territory, said Ms. McThomas. "He's going to have to get people talking about more than the economy or it's going to get him into trouble. What else could get people to the polls? Civil rights," she said.
First Published June 23, 2012 12:39 am