President Obama’s endorsement of gay marriage this past week brought with it a variety of benefits to his re-election effort. It energized his base and may well be a spur to more fundraising success, especially in Hollywood. Just as important, it engendered a chorus of unadulterated praise from the mainstream media that fits in well with the attempt to recapture the luster of his “hope and change” campaign in 2008 that hinged on the historic nature of his candidacy. The only question was whether it would cost him more votes from those who disagree than it would cause pro-gay rights voters to become supporters.
On the surface, a new Gallup poll conducted in the aftermath of the announcement seems to reassure the president’s camp that there was no danger of it harming his chances. The survey reports a clear majority of Americans — 51-45 percent — agree with him. Even more reassuring is that the decision won’t affect the votes of the vast majority, as 60 percent say it will make no difference and 13 percent assert it will make them more likely to vote for his re-election. Only 26 percent claim this will make them less likely to vote for him. But within these figures is still some very bad news for the president. The numbers show far more votes will be lost as a result of his stand than gained, especially in the center where the election will probably be decided.
Though the headline may say most votes won’t be affected by gay marriage, one needn’t go too deep into the results to figure out that this means twice as many voters could be lost to Obama on this issue than he would win. Even more depressing for Democrats is that independents are the most affected by the issue, with 23 percent registering less interest in voting for the president and only 11 percent with more support.
As Gallup’s own analysis concludes:
Those figures suggest Obama’s gay marriage position is likely to cost him more independent and Democratic votes than he would gain in independent and Republican votes, clearly indicating that his new position is more of a net minus than a net plus for him.
There is little doubt that Obama’s flip-flop on gay marriage (he supported it as an Illinois state senator, prudently opposed it when running for the U.S. Senate and for the presidency but now endorses it) is because he believes it is vital to energize the Democrats’ base. Neither Obama nor Romney can hope to win without the enthusiasm of their party’s core, but in an election that tracking polls tell us is a virtual dead heat, any issue that has the potential to lose twice as many vital independents as it can win is a possible death blow.
As the results in the North Carolina referendum this week showed, as much as there has been a sea change in American culture on gays, there is still stiff resistance to tinkering with the traditional definition of marriage. That is especially true in swing states that Obama won in 2008 such as North Carolina, Virginia and Ohio but which are up for grabs this year.
Thus, while the president is reaping the hosannas of the mainstream liberal media and possibly raking in even more Hollywood donations, his “evolution” on the issue may wind up costing him states he can’t afford to lose in November.