Alex Blaze

Did gay, lesbian, and bisexual people turn Republican since 2008?

Filed By Alex Blaze | November 07, 2010 5:30 PM | comments

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Not to pick on Jonathan Capehart because this number has been going exit-poll.jpgaround and he's not the only pundit using this exit poll question to argue that LGB's turned Republican in this past election, but here he is:

Gay men, lesbians and bisexuals who self-identified to exit pollsters made up 3 percent of those casting ballots in House races on Tuesday, and 31 percent of them voted Republican. By itself, that number is amazing, especially when you consider that way too many people think being gay and voting Democratic are one in the same. But that percentage is ominous news for a White House viewed with suspicion by many gay men and lesbians, because that's four percentage points higher than the change election of 2008.

Oh my, 4% increase! In fact, it's even worse than that. For some reason Capehart won't share with us he compared 2010 House exit poll results to 2008 Presidential exit poll results, when 2008 House results were available. 80% of LGB people voted for the Democratic House candidate in 2008, making the difference 11%. If you gathered nine LGB people, one of them turned Republican in the last two years!

Except, no, there's no way to know what happened since the poll is (and has always been) pretty much meaningless. Capehart even cites one of the big reasons why at the bottom of his post:

But Post polling director Jon Cohen urged caution when interpreting the exit polls. "[Be] *careful* of extremely low sample sizes," he wrote to me in an e-mail. "Given the way the exit poll was divided into smaller parts, only 126 voters interviewed nationwide described themselves as gay. Sampling error margin is about + or - at least nine points for this group of voters." That should put a damper on LaSalvia's end-zone dancing. But the overall trend and the message it sends should not be ignored by Democrats.

Capehart was warned to be careful with numbers from an LGB poll, but that doesn't stop him from going crazy with the exact analyses he was told to avoid, even saying "More gays voted Republican than in 2008" in the title of his post (and I'm just going to ignore Capehart's conflation of "lesbian, gay, or bisexual" and "gay"). There seems to be something going around the Washington Post's offices, as another Post reporter did the exact same thing a month ago.

Remember, it's the bloggers who are irresponsible and make over-the-top conclusions without being sure of their facts. Without staid, reasonable mainstream media thinkers like Capehart and his colleagues, the world would have already descended into madness.

Anyway, that's a fairly big deal there, that only 126 people were asked a polling question and we're supposed to take it as representative of the whole LGB population that's probably in the tens of millions. A plus or minus 9% margin of error isn't a trifle, and it's not even the entire margin of error. Exit polls actually have a higher intrinsic margin of error than a telephone poll, and 9% is the margin of error a telephone poll that size would have had. One polling firm estimates exit polls have 50%-80% more error than standard polling techniques, meaning the margin of error on that 31% number could have been plus or minus 16%.

Add to that the normal problems with exit polling: not counting early, absentee, or mail-in voters; not counting late voters as the pollsters usually leave an hour before the poll close; lots of people choose not to take the time to respond; non-confrontational people who avoid electioneers, among whom pollsters are forced to stand in some states; and people volunteering to be polled, who should technically be denied by the pollster, but.... All of this is why exit polls are usually adjusted after the official results come in to give a more accurate picture of what happened.

Then there are the specifically LGB problems with the poll. The CNN exit poll asked 126 LGB people and 17,504 people, total. The CNN poll claims 3% of the respondents were LGB, even though 126 is much less than 3% of 17,504. So the polling analysts somehow assumed the size of the LGB population at 3% and then used the results from those 126 people.

Which raises a whole bunch of questions. Where did CNN get that 3% number? Is 3% accurate? Why didn't more than 126 people identify as LGB?

Most importantly: were those 126 LGB people representative of the larger LGB population in the US?

What we do know about those 126 LGB people is that they were willing to complete an exit poll with a pollster in public and felt completely free to tell her that they identify as lesbian, gay, or bisexual. And that's not everybody. It's not just Larry Craig types who would avoid identifying as LGB, but also people worried that others will hear, people who don't want to tell the pollster in front of them that they're LGB, or people who are in too much of a hurry or too anti-social to actually do the poll. CNN also doesn't show an "other" category, which, according to a recent Indiana University study, makes up 1% of the population. Did they assume that everyone who was "other" or refused to answer was LGB or straight?

And that's not even getting into the question I posted on earlier this week: what makes someone lesbian, gay, or bisexual? It's the fundamental problem with all studies of LGB people generally since if we can't even define a population in the abstract, how are we going to define it for the purposes of dissecting it?

If there's something more to gay-ness and bisexuality than the way someone identifies publicly, then exit polling won't get at it. Someone who is only attracted to the opposite sex might identify as "gay" or "bisexual" as a statement of solidarity or as a result of (mis)reading too much Foucault (I knew four people like that in college), some people might not be out yet and say "straight," some people might say "other" because they just had a strange experience but will eventually go back to identifying as what they identified before, some people might say "straight" because they don't think that their same-sex activities/thoughts count as gay, etc.

That same Indiana University study above found that 8% of men and 7% of women didn't identify as straight, so I'm really wondering where this study got its 3% number. Whether people who didn't out themselves to the pollster were more likely to vote Democratic or Republican is open to speculation (Democratic voters, who tend to be poorer, would have more to lose materially; Republican voters, who tend to be more religious, would have more to lose spiritually).

None of what I mentioned above gets into the problems with comparing these two exit polls from 2008 and 2010 and using them to say something about how LGB people have changed. Democratic turn-out was down from what it was in 2008, down more than Republican turn-out was, so maybe that explains why there were fewer LGB people who voted Democratic. Two years have passed, and more conservatives might be out than were back in 2008. The 126 people asked in 2010 and the similar number asked in 2008 surely weren't the exact same people, so the margins of error might have added up to produce a large change over time.

Anyway, all that's to say that there isn't any reason to put much stock in that exit poll. More importantly, many of the problems with that exit poll are found in other polls of the LGB population, and the first question we should ask when an article says "X% of LGB people believe Y" is "Where did they get their queers?" Usually the source won't stand up to scrutiny.

But that won't stop queer or mainstream media from reporting the figure and pontificating over it. Who cares if it's true; it's provocative, and that's more important.


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It's also a nice way of simplifying the issue of gay-Dem relations. It doesn't mention the possibility that this time more gay Republicans came out to vote and gay Democratic voters felt deflated.

Then again, Capehart's not known for his objectivity, should one revisit any of his conversations concerning the gay community and Obama. His piece comes off far more as a way to shock gay liberals and stir participation the next elections.

I can't help but think that's the agenda here. Aravosis, also not known for his objectivity, is probably going to beat this poll hard for the next two years even though it doesn't say what he wants it to say:

http://gay.americablog.com/2010/11/12-drop-in-gay-support-for-house-dems.html

At least he compared the 2010 data to 2008 House data, which is smarter all around but only slightly less useless.

"On election night (2008) hundreds of thousands gathered in a Chicago park in hope of getting a glimpse of the President-Elect and his family. His inauguration a few weeks later was like a coronation, revival and Woodstock all rolled in to one." "http://www.kclabor.org/midtermshifttoright.htm

Two years later, on November 2nd, 2010 twenty nine million of those who voted for Obama smartened up and turned their backs on Obama's party. This remarkable rebuke - which led to 60 seats being turned - wasn't because millions of voters made a big right turn.

In 2008 Obama ran an empty-headed, liberal feel-good campaign of hopey-changey, a repeat of Clintons 1992 campaign. A bit over a third of eligible voters were duped into voting for him, a little under a third were scammed by McCain and about a third, the smart ones, sat it out.

Of those who voted for Obama in 2008 29 million stayed home, voted left and some stupidly voted Republican in 2010. Among them large numbers of LGBT voters decisively rejected Democrats because Obama is a homohating bigot and Congress is composed of bigots and those who pander to them. Even larger numbers rejected Obama and the Congress because they betrayed unions, reproductive rights, people of color, workers and consumers, the fight for single payer medicine, the 15 million unemployed, environmentalists and imported workers. In fact Obama and the Congress betrayed everyone but big business and the Pentagon.

This is the fourth Congressional election in a row that's seen one party or another make huge gains at the expense of the other. In 2004 the Republicans made huge gains. In 2006 the Democrats, promising to end the wars - the ones still going on or being escalated - trounced the Republicans. In 2008, after appealing and winning the bigot vote back from the Republicans Democrats captured super majorities but then moved right when the times demand leftist policies. In 2010 the Republicans took 60 seats in the House and almost took the Senate back in spite of the fact that they're as mistrusted as Democrats.

The time when Democrats or Republicans can lie and break promises without facing the consequences is over. These rapid fire reversals of fortunes mirrors the fact that both parties are becoming more and more despised.

I was forced from a swing district in Houston to the very hard to beat 75% red district 10 of VA due to economic factors. If I could only have moved a few blocks down the road to Connolly's district.

Brenda Louise | November 8, 2010 3:04 AM

For one thing, your headline seems to have excluded the "T" section of LGBT. I am a "T" and while some GLB"T" disolisioned folks might have abandoned the Democrat vote because they didn't see enough action from Obama within the last two years, I was at least smart enough to realize that trying to move a homophobic and transphobic goverment to the left can only be done in small steps. That is to say that if Obama tried to make a radical turn with the government, the Republican spinsters whould have made the Democrats look so villionous that you couldn't even get a straight person to vote if it was the last vote to make in their life. But what I'm scratching my head about is, why in the hell would any LGB"T" person would want to be a Log Cabin Republican in the first place? Unless, because their bank accounts deem it necessary to shelter their income from being taxed like every other working person in America.

I didn't include the T in the title because the exit poll only asked people if they were gay, lesbian, or bisexual. If people discuss this poll as representing "LGBT" people, that introduces another source of inaccuracy since, for all we know, straight T people voted radically differently than LGB people did.

Do we really know how straight identified trans people vote? It's kinda sad that we continue this line of conversation. T has historically been left out of the LGB. The reality of the situation is that many T folk dont want to be included anyway. I feel llike some focus of the article couldve focussed on that. T people do vote im sure. Who identifies as LGB at the polls anyway. The poll is has as much validity and substance as the article. Its important to be inclusive, even when mainstream is not. Even if its not important to you, it is to all the T people who read your article.

It's strange, but the last time I posted on the CNN exit polls I got the same complaint from someone who accused me of leaving transgender people out of the post.

CNN decides what questions to ask. I don't. They asked people if they were "lesbian, gay or bisexual." They did not ask people if they were transgender or transsexual.

That's it. I don't know what to say other than that if I ran CNN's polling department, I would have included a question about the T or left the entire LGBT category off since it produces such wildly inaccurate results. But I don't.

Personally I met one gay male that said he was voting Republican but I met others that said they were voting at least for certain Republicans.I wouldn't be surprised if more than three percent of Iowa's LGBT community voted for Terry Branstad the new old career Governor.I voted pretty much straight Dem but would have preferred a good alternative to them and the Reps.

I realize that there is a lot of resistance activists to calling LGB people gay, but it's done. It's not a conflation. Gay doesn't strictly mean homosexual male, and I'm not sure that it ever did.

As long as people cannot agree on the name of a cultural identity, language is meaningless and so are these polls. Gay and straight are social constructs...they mean whatever the social consensus is much as woman, man, black, white, Christian and Jewish. There are plenty of people that don't actively practice Chistianity or Judiaism, but will identify as such culturally.

There are times when we simply do not need to break gays down into gender and kinsey degrees.

You can take a sample of black people without breaking it down into black men and black women. You can take a sample of blacks, Asians or whites without breaking it down into mixed race. Or you can. It depends on what you're trying to measure.

It bugs me to call any group of people an acronym. I mean, if you're talking about distinctive groups of people that share no culture it would make sense to refer to them as an acronym. But that's not what we are...we are a people of varying degrees of gender and homosexual attractions that can collectively be referred to as gay. And we can be broken down into subgroups when necessary just like any other demographic.

Alex, I have a comment roughly along the same lines. If you were trying to convince the reader that the poll and the way it is being interpreted is meaningless, you had me after the first few paragraphs.

For the rest of the post -- well, there is a difference between kicking the tires and beating them with the tire iron until they are a pile of rubber shreds. Or to move on to a different metaphor, you are killing a fly with a whole shipment of Bazooka cannons.

I, too, though, get very tired of polls with error spreads that you could march an army through being analyzed ad nauseam, resulting in claims that imply precisions to within micrometers and even nanometers.

And you're right, Alex, about the bloggers and the professional journalists -- despite the generalizations, there are bloggers that live up to professional standards, and there are supposed "professional" journalists publishing crap that many bloggers would be ashamed of.

LOL. I did go a little long here, and I actually cut out some of my other points about cluster sampling and how that increases error when discussing minority groups because I thought the post would be too long.

In my defense, I'm guessing this poll will be cited as fact for the next two years. So now I have something to point back to when someone a year from now says, "The gays are turning Republican because they realize socialism isn't right for them."

You have absolved yourself -- and I didn't consider the possibility that you were writing for the sake of the historical record, and your anticipations make perfect sense.