Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Obama's win is not a mandate for liberal social policy - consider California's Prop 8

Based on the 2008 election results in California, Obama's win is in no way a mandate for liberal social policy. Two issues that were on the California ballot were social policy issues:
  • Proposition 4 which would have required parental notification before a teen could get an abortion and which was defeated by the voters;
  • Proposition 8 which placed in the state constitution a provision effectively banning gay marriage.
In nine counties casting a majority for Obama, voters also approved requiring notification of parents in advance of any teen abortion. In six counties casting a majority for McCain, voters were against the notification measure. These 15 counties seem to indicate a discrepancy between attitudes on social policy and reasons for voting for a presidential candidate. In itself, this would not be surprising. After all, the issues most affecting how people voted for President - the economy and national security - do not indicate attitudes on any single social policy issue.

So how does one explain the differences between the two maps on social issues, Prop 4 Abortion Notification (top right) and Prop 8 Gay Marriage Ban (bottom right)?

First, consider the voting pattern on Proposition 22 passed in 2000 which created a statute defining marriage as between a man and a woman and which the State Supreme Court overturned as violating the state constitution. As you can see from the map bottom left, Prop 22 was defeated in only a few of the most liberal California counties. It was clear from that vote that even in the generally liberal counties the electorate was probably two decades away from supporting gay marriage.

Now, consider the voting pattern on the 2008 measure, Proposition 8. While the measure was defeated in many of the traditionally liberal counties representing a gain for the gay community, in fact Prop 8 passed in Los Angeles County, Imperial County, Solano County, and Sacramento County.

Why did that happen? We have no polling data on these ballot issues at this time. So all one can do is speculate based upon other considerations. Generally the Hispanic and Black communities are thought to be more conservative on the issue of gay marriage due to cultural and religious background. And while the same cultural and religious background might favor anti-abortion laws such as Pro 4, the abortion notification issue is decidedly a women's issue that would tend to cause many somewhat socially conservative women to vote against it while still voting for Prop 8.

Though the high turnout in the Black and Hispanic communities in other states probably got Obama elected, the high turnout in California did nothing towards getting him elected and may have led to Proposition 8 winning.

While Obama's win might generally be considered a good thing in the gay community nationally, in California it likely was a disaster for the efforts of the gay community to gain the right to marriage. In 2000, California voters approved a simple initiative statute stating the marriage would be defined as between a man and a woman. The California Supreme Court ruled that the statute violated the California Constitution. In 2008 the California voters approved an initiative amending the California Constitution to again declare that marriage is between a man and a woman.

Hence, one can conclude that Obama's win does not represent a general voter mandate for liberal social policies.

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