Thursday, November 13, 2008

Prop 8: Nate Silver has my back

Last week, I wrote this:

The implication [of the AP story] is clear, and has been said outright, first-time non-white voters brought into the system by the Obama campaign provided the margin necessary to pass Prop. 8.

Except that if you look at the data from the AP exit poll [now a pdf], that isn’t clear at all.

Unless there are cross-tabulations from this poll that have not been made publicly available, I cannot see how the numbers support the certitude of the claim. . . .

Democrats overwhelmingly rejected Prop. 8, first-time voters overwhelmingly rejected Prop. 8, those who are in accordance with Obama’s positions overwhelmingly rejected Prop. 8, those who supported Obama in the primary overwhelmingly rejected Prop. 8, those who voted for Obama on Tuesday overwhelmingly rejected Prop. 8.

Five days later, Nate Silver of FiveThirtyEight wrote this:

Certainly, the No on 8 folks might have done a better job of outreach to California's black and Latino communities. But the notion that Prop 8 passed because of the Obama turnout surge is silly. Exit polls suggest that first-time voters -- the vast majority of whom were driven to turn out by Obama (he won 83 percent [!] of their votes) -- voted against Prop 8 by a 62-38 margin. More experienced voters voted for the measure 56-44, however, providing for its passage.

Now, it's true that if new voters had voted against Prop 8 at the same rates that they voted for Obama, the measure probably would have failed. But that does not mean that the new voters were harmful on balance -- they were helpful on balance. If California's electorate had been the same as it was in 2004, Prop 8 would have passed by a wider margin.

Furthermore, it would be premature to say that new Latino and black voters were responsible for Prop 8's passage. Latinos aged 18-29 (not strictly the same as 'new' voters, but the closest available proxy) voted against Prop 8 by a 59-41 margin. These figures are not available for young black voters, but it would surprise me if their votes weren't fairly close to the 50-50 mark.

There are few quantitative analysts I would trust more than Silver (and his presidential predictions were the best of the lot this cycle), so it is a real confidence builder for me to know that when he looks at the data he sees the same thing that I see—or, more accurately, he doesn’t see the same thing that I don’t see. There is nothing in the exit polling to support the narrative that the first-time African American voters brought to the polls by Barack Obama’s campaign provided Prop. 8 with its margin of victory—and, in fact, most evidence seems to point the other way.

Silver believes that the ballot measure owes its passage to older voters, noting that if no one over 65 had voted, Prop. 8 would have failed by “a point or two.” Silver suggests that as that demographic ages out of, um, life, bigoted efforts such as this one will eventually fail.

While I tend to agree overall—the younger you go, the more comfortable most seem with diversity—I think that Silver should take a look at the family factor. Those that are married and have children (31% of the sample) voted in favor of the measure 68% to 32%. All others voted against the gay marriage ban by a ten-point margin.

(I know what you’re thinking: “All others” includes most of the voting homosexual population. That’s probably true. Alas, there is no cross-tabulation for “married heterosexuals without children”—however, because the “all others” segment is so much larger than the “married with children” slice, even if you could subtract the gay vote, I suspect that this segment would still have rejected the proposition.)

The question becomes “Are beliefs about gay marriage static?” Will the young segments that voted against Prop. 8 continue to feel the same way, even as they age and/or have children? To ask it another way: Do those married with children tend to favor the ban more because they would tend to be older than those without kids, or did those that are younger reject Proposition 8 because they had yet to reproduce?

To my eye, the history of civil rights movements in the United States would favor Silver’s take on the numbers, but the numbers don’t confirm this, at least not with absolute certainty. I guess, as they—and the numbers—say, time will tell.

(cross-posted on Daily Kos, guy2k, and The Seminal)

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