Sunday, September 18, 2011

Why gay marriage had (next to) nothing to do with NY-9

In the wake of Democrat David Weprin's shocking electoral defeat by Republican Bob Turner in the race to replace embattled former Congressman Anthony Weiner, many on the political right are insisting that it was Weprin's support for gay marriage that sealed his fate.  The high population of Orthodox Jews in the Brooklyn-Queens district, they say, voted against Weprin's support for equal marriage, putting Turner over the top in what should have been an easy victory for the Democrats.

But the facts are not on their side.  In fact, recent polling in New York's ninth district confirms that there were many factors at play, and that gay marriage was only a small part of a variety of issues voters weighed in deciding who to vote for.

Public Policy Polling gathered the opinions of NY-9ers just days before the election, and their data demonstrate that gay marriage was not what ushered in Congressman Bob Turner; rather, it was the district's disillusionment with President Obama, particularly his stance on Israel, that turned voters away from the Democrats this year.

According to PPP, 56% of voters in the district disapprove of President Obama, compared with only 31% who approve of him.  Compare that to Mitt Romney's 33%-33% split, and the fact that voters said they would vote for Romney over Obama 46% to 42%, and it is clear that Obama's decline in popularity had a significant effect on voters' views of the Democrat in this congressional race; the electorate was just not on Democrats' sides.  Obama has even received flak from within his own party for Weprin's loss.

Specifically on Israel, 54% of voters disapprove of Obama's handling of the issue, while only 30% approve.  The salience of this issue was very high, with 69% saying it was very or somewhat important in deciding who to vote for, while only 29% called it not that important.

On the question of gay marriage, the numbers are almost even, with 45% supporting and 41% opposing.  Given the poll's margin of error of 3.8%, that is virtually a statistical tie.  Furthermore, 55% said this issue was very or somewhat important in their decision on who to vote for, while 44% said it was not that important.  Given the fact that public opinion on gay marriage is split, the fact that the issue was relatively salient (though certainly not as much as Israel) does not immediately point to the issue being a boon for Turner.  In other words, given that opinion is virtually even, it's just as possible that Weprin's support for gay marriage led some voters to want to vote for Weprin, just as much as it led some to not want to vote for him.  The numbers do not support gay marriage opponents' assertions that Weprin's defeat was a direct result of his views on gay marriage.

Not only does reliable polling show that the issue of gay marriage did not play the role that organizations like the National Organization for Marriage is saying it did, but it has even been reported that both candidates sought to downplay the issue, since in New York gay marriage is already legal.

Even among those who did disagree with Weprin's views on gay marriage, the real problem was not so much his mere support for gay marriage, but the fact that he used his religion as an Orthodox Jew as a reason to support it, which many Orthodox Jews found offensive.  Again, the issue of marriage is trumped by other matters.

Bottom line: Those who say Weprin lost the election because of his support for gay marriage have no proof of this.  In fact, statistical evidence points to Obama's unpopularity and his handling of Israel being the major factors at play.  Once again, the anti-equality forces are trying to make political hay out of a race that had very little to do with marriage, but the facts clearly say otherwise.

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