November, 2nd 2009

What to watch for tomorrow night (no, not in NJ, NY or VA)

– Liz Mair

The political blogs and cable news talkers are a-chatter about the NJ-Gov, NY-23 and VA-Gov races, so while they carry on (and I predict Republican victories in at least NY-23 and VA-Gov, with a decent shot at a win in NJ), I figured I'd do a quick post on two other items for libertarianish types to watch tomorrow night: The results of ballot initiatives relating to, respectively, same-sex marriage in Maine and domestic partnerships in Washington.  Maine's Question 1 asks people if they want to scrap the state's same-sex marriage law (so a "yes" is the anti-gay-marriage side).  In Washington, Referendum 71 asks people to give a thumbs-up or a thumbs-down to the state's current domestic partnership law (a thumbs-down would, of course, mean a walk-back of state recognition of same-sex partnerships).  So, taken from the Liz Mair, pro-legal-recognition-of-same-sex-relationships standpoint, the result we hope to see is "no" in Maine and "yes" in Washington.  Got that?  Good...

Taking these in reverse order, I suspect that R71 will pass in Washington without too much difficulty.  Last week, a Survey USA/KING5 poll showed that half of those questioned planned on approving Referendum 71 (i.e., saying "yes" to the state's domestic partnership law) with 43 percent planning to reject it and seven percent remaining undecided.  While this arguably could tally to a 50/50 split, remember that there are local elections in Washington, including a mayoral race in liberal Seattle, a County Executive race in Democratic dominated King County, and so on and so forth.  That should mean a situation where voters more likely to vote "yes" but who wouldn't necessarily be as inclined to vote were that Referendum alone on the ballot do in fact vote-- and (I would conjecture) tick the "yes" box.  This is of course setting aside that for whatever the polling shows, Washington is not an especially socially conservative state-- and the bits of it that are, are significantly less populous than the bits of it that are not. 

One caveat to this: A politically plugged-in and clued-up Evergreen Stater with whom I spoke earlier noted that in a state where voting by mail is the norm, usually resulting in a high volume of ballots having been returned by now, a relatively small proportion of ballots have in fact been received.  Does this point to lower turnout?  If so, that could mean that the well-motivated anti-same-sex-partnership forces could be benefiting.  Remember, gay marriage bans and the equivalent have a pretty solid history of passing, I would argue not because the bulk of people (or even slim majorities of people) in virtually every state in which they are run in fact opposes gay marriage and strongly enough to go to the polls over it, but rather because just enough do-- and they are well-motivated and well-organized and well-funded (arguably better motivated, organized and funded than the pro-marriage forces in these cases).  It's safe to bet that even if a small proportion of Washington voters actually opposes same sex domestic partnerships, they will be sure to vote and make their voices on the point heard.  That being said, I still suspect that in the state, the numbers are against them, as does my source.  He predicted that R71 would be approved reasonably comfortably, if not overwhelmingly (try in the mid-50s range).  That feels about right to me, too, admittedly in my what is (now) far-removed-from-Seattle mode.

Maine, however, looks like it could be a different story-- emphasis on could-- and if things go the wrong way, a potentially sad one, for gay marriage advocates, too.  Nate Silver-- who is significantly better at math(s) and mathematical analysis than I am-- calls the Yes side (so the anti-gay-marriage one) "a 5-2 underdog."  That seems to be more or less the conclusion of my friend Matt Gagnon, who is in fact from Maine, and with whom I informally debated the likelihood of a referendum to nix the existing law passing earlier this year.  At the time, my contention was that Maine, being a fairly liberal state, surely was more likely than not to uphold the law allowing marriage, and that surely the anti-gay-marriage forces would have a fight on their hands.  Matt wasn't as convinced about that.  He's still not... even though his gut is telling him Maine will come out as a "no":

We have seen poll after poll either bounce between a dead heat on this question, or a modest victory for the “no on one” side.  But beware the (varient) Bradley effect in this race, for two reasons.

First, when polled, voters many times feel uncomfortable giving an answer that they feel the person polling will interpret negatively, resulting in a judgment against them – even if it is how they really feel.  This could be skewing many of these poll results more toward the no side than is reality.

Second, many of the people who indicate they support gay marriage in such a poll do so out of a tepid sense of fairness, but are not passionate about the issue.  This may depress such respondents from going to the polls if they have no other issue that calls them to the voters box.  People who answer “yes”, however, are likely much more energized and firm in their convictions on this question.

In other words, the cohesion of a yes voter in these polls actually showing up on election day and registering a yes is higher than the no voter, and many of the indicated no voters may not even be no voters anyway.

This feels about right to me.  That, added to the fact that while to outsiders, Maine looks liberal, the second district, for sure, is not nearly as liberal as you might think (it's actually fairly culturally conservative).  Matt ultimately comes out favoring the "no" side (i.e., the pro-gay-marriage side)-- but just by a smidgen.  But he also notes this:

It would not surprise me at all if the “silent majority” of culturally conservative, anti gay marriage voters in the state came out in droves for both this question, and question 4 (which could be the wild card in this – cross question motivation to get to the polls), tipping the balance toward a veto.

It is anybody’s game, and it is all about turnout, energy and mobilization.  I’m betting on the no crowd, but anything could happen here.

Matt also says:

I have a nagging suspicion that the no on one folks will in fact pull it off.  I have seen a much stronger mobilization effort so far on that side of the isle, and suspect that will translate on election day.

Matt has a better sense of what is in fact happening on the ground up in the Pine Tree State than I do (hey, that's why he writes Pine Tree Politics and I write over here). What I can say is that I have heard complaints from some friends and contacts within the gay community that national level gay rights organizations have not done nearly enough to lock Maine down-- while it is apparent that the National Organization for Marriage has been doing its thing in Maine which always has to concern marriage advocates on some level.  While Matt's numbers come out favoring a pro-same-sex marriage victory, a lot of his analysis explains why it may not occur-- and personally, I'm a little on the fence on this one given what I'm hearing and what I'm reading.  Certainly, there are folks I know who are worried about this one-- though that may ultimately prove to be indicative of the ability of the "no" forces to eke out a better win than what they might ultimately manage.

Hopefully, legal recognition of the relevant same-sex relationship will be upheld in both states.  But Washington looks like the only truly safe bet from where I'm sitting just now.  It will be interesting to see what happens in Maine, especially, tomorrow night.

UPDATE: Two friends who are very involved in LGBT-related political debates at the national level and who have been watching goings on in Maine say they too think the result up there will be very close.  However, they both think that the "yes" side (so the anti-gay-marriage side) has the momentum and is better motivated.  Yesterday, Stand for Marriage Maine also released this radio ad:


As to my knowledge (and someone please update me if I need to be updated) the No on 1 side has not put any last minute ads out there to offer a counterbalance.  Will it matter?  Possibly not, given the proportion of Maine's electorate that votes early or by absentee ballot.  No on 1's campaign manager, Jesse Connolly, has called the ad a "last-minute Hail Mary."  Here's hoping he's right.  These two friends don't seem to be convinced that the Yes on 1 side has nothing more than "Hail Marys" of this sort left. [intro]


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