Scott Kaiser

Kerry Outperformed Obama Among LGBT Voters: Why?

Filed By Scott Kaiser | November 07, 2008 10:30 AM | comments

Filed in: Marriage Equality, Politics
Tags: Barack Obama, election campaigns, Kerry, statistics, vote

While surfing the web tonight for information about the remaining undecided races from the election, I ran across a little tidbit over on the widely-respected and accurate site that shocked me:

John Kerry received a larger percentage (77%) of the gay/lesbian vote in 2004 than Barack Obama did in this election (70%).

[Update: As Kathryn points out in the comments, transgendered people were not included in this exit polling data.]


Now I am usually the first person to point out that the LGBT community is a very large and diverse group. We aren't all Democrats by a long shot nor should we be. I also realize that we gays and lesbians are not just single-issue voters (contrary to popular belief). But honestly, I am left scratching my head over this statistic. Obama outperformed Kerry in virtually all of the other demographic groups (age 65+ voters being the only other exception), so why were we the anomaly?

As one of his constituents here in Arizona I know that John McCain was once more moderate in regards to LGBT issues, so did that win him more support among gay/lesbian voters? To me that all flew out the window when he chose Sarah Palin as his VP pick. Her ultra-conservative views were apparent from the start, but in the final few weeks before the election she publicly broke from McCain and announced that she did in fact support a constitutional amendment defining marriage as between one man and one woman. I myself could never cast a vote for a ticket that put someone with those views a heart beat away from the presidency regardless of the likelihood of such an amendment ever being ratified.

I have witnessed some anger about how Obama's comments on gay marriage/civil unions were used in robocalls in support of Prop. 8 in California. We can argue back in forth until we are blue in the face whether or not Obama should publicly supported gay marriage and if that would have become a wedge issue, but it did cause such resentment that people voted for John McCain because of it? Wouldn't that be like cutting off your nose to spite your face? And more to the point, did not Kerry have the same position on gay marriage?

Could it have been racism? I do not want to believe in that possibility as our movement has always been about a message of tolerance and diversity. Did homosexuals find John Kerry more appealing or charismatic than Barack Obama? You would have a hard time convincing me. Just search YouTube for video of Kerry's acceptance speech at the Democratic Convention in 2004 and compare it to Obama's speech this year. Argument won.

Finally, I am left wondering if perhaps nationwide more gay/lesbian voters simply did not vote this election. I doubt very much that is true. With anti-gay propositions on the ballot in four states, massive get-out-the-vote efforts, and people feeling more passionate about this election than any in recent memory, it would be surprising if more LGBT voters simply sat this one out.

I do not want to read too much into this statistic, but I would like to understand it. Leave a comment and tell me why you think this happened. More importantly, do you think there is a message we should take away from it?

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William D. Lindsey William D. Lindsey | November 7, 2008 10:42 AM

"Could it have been racism? I do not want to believe in that possibility as our movement has always been about a message of tolerance and diversity."

Personally, I think this is an inescapable conclusion. I don't have data at my fingertips and am willing to be convinced by contradictory evidence.

But the anecdotal evidence that's pretty widely accessible in many places leads me to think that there's a significant amount of racism in some segments of the American LGBT community, which we haven't done nearly enough to address.

Scott Kaiser Scott Kaiser | November 7, 2008 11:00 AM

I do think that the LGBT community, just like the rest of the country, suffers from some racist attitudes. I'm just wondering how prevalent exactly that it is.

Reformed Ascetic | November 7, 2008 2:21 PM

70% versus 77% and the inescapable conclusion is racism?

Could it have something to do with the differences between Bush and McCain?

I would turn this around on you and ask, is it racist to assume someone voted against Obama because of his race?

I voted for Obama. But I didn't vote for him because he is black, or of mixed heritage or Hawaiian or attractive or smoothly spoken. I like to believe I voted for him due to well reasoned positions.

Don't I owe it to those who voted differently to show them the respect to assume they did as well.


Why do you believe the "statistic"? I don't recall ever checking a box asking whether or not I was straight or gay. I simply do not believe this is a measure that can be taken accurately. Almost everyone I know voted for Obama. I doubt the same people would have voted no on Prop 8 had it been on the ballot in the newly-turned blue state of Indiana. So many mostly, I think, older people here still poo-poo marriage saying that marriage isn't important; just equality. It is a hard argument to make that you simply cannot have equality without marriage for all or marriage for none. Civil Unions for all or marriage for all should be the goal; what is so hard to understand about equality, but I am getting off point.

Your point, fewer gays and lesbians voted for Barack Obama than for John Kerry. I simply do not believe the statistics. Gays and Lesbians are often invisible and they are invisible with pollsters as well. The "statistic" is wrong.

Scott Kaiser Scott Kaiser | November 7, 2008 10:57 AM

It is true that no one had to self-identify as gay or lesbian, but the statistic is based on highly sophisticated exit-polling models that were used in both the 2004 and 2008 elections. Even excluding voters that did not self-identify as LGBT, the basic sampling size and intricate methods used in both 2004 and 2008 were basically the same and gives us the ability to compare apples to apples in regards to the data. The results indicate overall reduced support *as a percentage* among our community for Obama than Kerry.

Kathryn DuBois | November 7, 2008 1:46 PM

Just as with polls asking preference of presidential candidates, the results of the CNN polls you are referencing have a margin of error that must be taking into account when making comparisons. The results from 2008 are based upon 4 percent of 17,836 respondents, or about 713 GLB respondents (they didn't ask anyone if they are "T") which produces a margin of error of about 4.5 percent -- the results from 2008 could be as high as 74.5 percent or as low as 65.5 percent. Assuming similar sample sizes for 2004, the results then could be as high as 81.5 percent or as low as 72.5 percent. In other words, the differences between 2004 and 2008 are within the margin of error and therefore, we cannot be confident that there is a true difference between the two samples.

Scott Kaiser Scott Kaiser | November 7, 2008 1:58 PM

Thank you for clarifying this.

I think a key here is how many voters were actually correctly identified as LGBT voters. Given the overt anti-LGBT bigotry of our government during the last eight years from both parties, particularly at the federal level, is it really hard to believe that many in our community simply chose not to publicly identify as LGBT?

LGBT people have jobs, homes, and lives to protect, and as we saw this election our enemies are still strong and quite willing and able to do us damage. My guess is that many LGBT's have chosen to protect themselves by not being out and open.

I suspect that if Obama and the Dems follow through on our issues now that they are in power during his first term, you'll see a much higher percentage of LGBT's willing to publicy ID as such next election cycle.

Scott Kaiser Scott Kaiser | November 7, 2008 11:05 AM

A friend of mine (who can't access this site right now to leave a comment) suggested that Log Cabin Republicans (or LGBT Republicans in general) were generally more enthused about John McCain than George Bush as a candidate and that in 2004 many of them either didn't vote or voted for Kerry.

Maybe the support level for Obama didn't necessarily go down from that of Kerry, but instead many more gay Republicans were voting for McCain this time.

Any gay Republicans out there care to comment on this?

I'm puzzled by this - and deeply disappointed, too. I wonder if, rather than racism, this might be about many of our wealthier brothers and sisters buying into the tired notion that Republicans serve their interests better. You would think when you consider the state of our economy today that this fallacy had been disproved beyond a doubt, yet it persists.

Yes, but actually one of the groups where Obama made the most inroads was with the wealthy. He did much better among rich people than Kerry did.

Assuming the accuracy of these exit polls, I have a hard time buying the racism rationale. First, LGBT people interviewed here presumably are racially diverse, and AA and latino voters supported Obama in significantly greater numbers than they did Kerry, meaning that white LGBT folks would have had to voted for McCain at a significantly higher rate than white population as a whole (which also moved in Obama's direction). While recent posts certainly indicate some tension between AA and LGBT civil rights movements, the LGBT movement often draws inspiration from AA civil rights history in a way that would suggest greater sympathy and national pride in electing the first black president. Alternate theories that are more plausible are (1) McCain and Obama are far closer in their LGBT positions than were Kerry and Bush; and (2) many gay people were ardent Hillary supporters. I would generally dismiss #2 as "so June '08" except that I do have several friends who were crazy about Hillary and never totally warmed to Obama. I think it is both more productive, and probably more accurate, to focus on the relationship of Obama's positions on LGBT issues to his LGBT support rather than glossing over those positions with accusations of racism.

Scott Kaiser Scott Kaiser | November 7, 2008 1:47 PM

Agreed. We do need to continue moving forward.

In my comment above in response to William, I was merely trying to point out that even our community isn't completely immune to racism, not imply that this was the reason for the difference in numbers. As a whole I think we do tend to honor diversity in greater percentages than the general population.

William D. Lindsey William D. Lindsey | November 7, 2008 2:04 PM

Scott, I'd like to think that we honor diversity as a community--and in greater percentages than the general population.

Still, I see considerable racism in those segments of our community that tend to vote Republican. And I see an interplay between economic self-interest and racism in these segments of our community as well, so that I'm not entirely sure racism is THE explanatory factor.

But it's there.

As a community, we're often silent about the racism, as well--except when we pay liberal lip-service to inclusiveness every now and again in ritual litanies of the excluded. We don't (in my view) do nearly enough to talk about and educate about racism.

In my experience, as a community, we are also frequently class-divided and age-divided. This strikes me strongly when I interact with gay communities in Europe, where those divisions often seem far less compelling than they are for us.

We tend to sort ourselves out in many ways that work to our disadvantage as a community--in addition to race, class, and age, there's often a strong regionalism by which we make assumptions that those living in some areas are less progressive than those in other areas, or that those who move in certain circles are more intelligent and accomplished than others are.

I've long believed there are many lines we need to talk across, in order to achieve greater solidarity. And I see a lot of knee-jerk reaction to attempts to cross those lines when they define turf that communities within our communities don't want to have "invaded" by line-crossing conversation.

While I agree with your rationale, Andy, I must admit that I do see some racism at work here. While we'd love to think that all of us focused on peace, love and hair grease, we're just not.

Getting the white LGBT community here in Indianapolis to reach out to the black LGBT community is like pulling teeth. While most simply don't know where to start, others are actively hostile. Sadly, racism is still alive and well in our own community. :(

Kathryn DuBois | November 7, 2008 1:34 PM

I wouldn't read too much into the differences between 2004 and 2008 because these are based upon polls with relatively small sub-samples of GLB voters. I'm not sure what the sample size was for 2004, but the 2008 figure is based upon a CNN exit poll ( in which only 4% of 17,836 respondents were family -- this works out to about 780 respondents which would result in a margin of error of +/- 4.5%. Assuming a similar sub-sample in 2004 and therefore a similar margin of error, the differences between the two polls would not be statistically significant and, therefore, meaningless.

I speak as a gay woman who did not vote for Obama, and I'll tell you why:

-He was going to win my state. No question.
-I'm sick of the Democratic Party telling me to sit down and shut up so they can get elected, and plan to leave it.

I voted for a third-party candidate who was openly pro-gay instead.

What a counter-productive attitude, Phoenix.

Taking your marbles and going home at the very time in history when Full GLBT Equality is within our grasp.

Grow up and get over yourself. Your attitude brings a smile to the face of Karl Rove, Sarah Pallin, and their ilk.

WE Democrats now have three members of our community in Congress. The Democratic Convention had the largest and most out LBGT contingent of Delegates in history at the Denver Convention.

Virtually ALL of the GLBT elected officials in the USA from the Courthouse to the Congress are Democrats.

We will gain Full LBGT Equality in our Lifetime by seizing and holding the broad American Political Center - not by getting our feelings hurt and pouting.

Harry Truman said, "If you can't stand the heat, get out of the kitchen."

Freedom isn't free, but it is available to anyone willing to fight for it.

If you choose to cop out, that is your choice. However, for your sake, I hope you reconsider.

Otherwise, all of the rest of us will just have to do your work for you.

Jim Toevs 406-741-2810

I was on the streets with a sign pinned to my chest all day on Thursday, letting my people (Californians) know how Prop. 8 had hurt me. I will keep doing so until it is no longer an issue, however long that takes. I am writing to my representatives. I am fighting for my rights, and I have been fighting for my rights since before they were taken away, thankyouverymuch. So don't you dare imply that I am not doing all I should do for the GLB community because I didn't vote with the winning party.

I voted for Cynthia McKinney, who, with the party she ran for, supports full marriage rights for all. I chose her because, of all the available candidates, she stood for my values -- not just on gay issues, but in many areas where the Democratic Party just doesn't represent me. And I have no regrets about voting my conscience in a guaranteed-blue state, and I am tired of the same old cry that people who vote third party are somehow traitors to our more general ideologies, even if those ideologies win handily as happened here. I am not a traitor.

In the vein of my comment to Alex Blaze a couple of minutes ago, you can take my input for what it's worth -- the opinion of just one lesbian voter -- and try extrapolating it, before making the blanket assumptions that 1) LGBs who voted for Kerry but did not vote for Obama are racists, and 2) LGBs who did not vote for Obama must have therefore voted for McCain, or not voted at all.

As I commented on Alex's aticle:

- quote -

Not that you asked, but I'll be happy to tell you why I voted for John Kerry in 2004, but not for Barack Obama in 2008: You say they had no "wildly different positions on gay rights issues," but you ignore the fact that their tactics were, indeed, wildly different. Obama sacrificed us (oh, please don't make me rehash Donnie McClurkin, Doug Kmiec, etc., etc.) very publicly, and consistently, to "reach out" to unapologetically, activist anti-gay, conservative, churchgoing voters, and quietly ignored our very vocal outrage.

Did it work? Sure did: Obama won (at what cost? well, my vote, for one), while Kerry lost.

Now, before anyone jumps down my throat for being a "one-issue" voter, I'll go on record here and repeat what I've said/written many times: I am in the safest blue state of all: California (not that CA is safe for queers anymore, but that's another story). If I knew that my one vote in 17 million (I think that's the number of reg'd voters in CA) would have kept McCain-Palin the hell out of the White House, I would have voted... well, not for Obama, but given Obama my vote, solely against McCain.

So, who did I vote for? McKinney-Clemente. Not because they're women, not because one is black and the other is Latina, and not as a protest vote. I voted for them because they represent my core values light-years ahead of Obama-Biden. And, being in California, because I had that luxury to vote third-party, without a lick of worry or guilt.

So you can take me out of the "gays went racist" stats -- it didn't happen here.

- end quote -

Which is a long way of saying what Phoenix wrote above:

"-He was going to win my state. No question.

"-I'm sick of the Democratic Party telling me to sit down and shut up so they can get elected, and plan to leave it."

Don't forget polling error. Remember we are measuring just 4% of the electorate and arguing over the difference between 70% and 77% of this 4% sample. What poll that you know of has accuracy to measure to a .4% or .04% level of accuracy?

The solution would be to do a much larger exit poll sample. My guess is that they don't do it because of cost.

I know there aren't many statistics geeks out there. But I gotta put in my 2 cents.

I ran the numbers, taking into account the margin of error inherent in sampling.

There was a statistically significant difference in LGB support for Obama and Kerry. Gays supported Obama at lower rates.

HOWEVER, there was no statistically significant difference in LGB support for McCain and Bush. So, while LGBs didn't vote for Obama at similar rates, they did not transfer that support to McCain. The corresponding increase in third-party candidate support hints that instead of switching to McCain, LGBs went rogue.

So. This can't tell us anything about whether racism was a factor, but I think it hints that more protest votes occurred because the candidates had almost identical positions on gay rights. Like the above commentators note.

Reformed Ascetic | November 7, 2008 10:21 PM

Thanks for actually crunching some numbers. Very interesting result.

When I read those above comments about voting 3rd party, I assumed that it didn't play much of a factor. But it's interesting to note that it may have.

Could it possibly be that some of us simply didn't buy Obama's act? That after having been burned by Kerry and the Dems back in '04 we were loathe to waste another vote and more effort on another slick poseur? That we'd heard all the "Hope/Change" rhetoric before, from Gene McCarthy to McGovern to Bill Clinton? That some of us honestly didn't fall for the Messiah mania that so many disgraced themselves and fell for? That some of us actually thought him the least qualified and most overhyped candidate? That some of us watched his performance in the primaries and weren't impressed by either his delivery or his ideas? That some of us noted every time he threw another inconvenient embarrassment "under the bus"? That some of us read his (probably ghost-written) books with skeptical instead of starry eyes? That some of us resented his flip-flop on FISA? That some of us compared his record against his words and concluded he was not an anti-war progressive but a centrist war-enabler? That some of us noticed that for a supposed "socialist" threatening to redistribute the wealth, he garnered even more Wall Street contributions than McCain. That some of us feared or suspected that he would betray or abandon us sooner or later? Nahh, it's gotta be racism; that's the only possible answer in the billericouniverse anyway.

Scott Kaiser Scott Kaiser | November 7, 2008 8:12 PM

So did you vote for McCain, a third party, or abstain from voting for President altogether?

Again, I want to make this clear: although I mentioned racism in my original post, I also dismissed it.

I won't dismiss the idea though that racism still does exist in all segments of society, including ours.

After almost voting for Ralph Nader as a protest vote, I held my nose and voted for Obama only in order to keep McCain (and more to the point, Palin) out of the White House. All the while I cursed under my breath that I had to (once again!) vote for the lesser of two evils in order to feel as if I had any control, no matter how miniscule, over my own life in this country. I regret not voting for Nader already.

Scott Kaiser Scott Kaiser | November 7, 2008 8:37 PM

Although we don't see eye-to-eye in regards to Obama, I appreciate the fact that you voted even if you would have voted for Nader, McCain, or someone else. The only people I truly take issue with are those that don't vote at all. I see it as a person's civic responsibility. Even if once they get to the voting booth and abstain from voting for President or write-in a name, it's better than not participating at all.

I'm curious if Ron Paul was on your state's ballot and if so, would you have voted for him? I'm not a Ron Paul supporter, but I know a lot of people were at the beginning of the election.

I used to be a libertarian years ago. I still appreciate their commitment to personal liberties but have grown sour on their free market idolatry. I can't recall Ron Paul being on my state's ballot, only Nader, McKinney and Barr. I wouldn't have voted for Paul because he's as nutty as Palin where religion is concerned (all right, almost as nutty), and something he said or did during the primaries struck me as homophobic.

Some people are discussing the likelihood that this is simply the margin of error, but remember that the margin of error is generally a 90% chance that the "real" number is in that range, with the heaviest probability being right on the number reported. It isn't simply "add or subtract 4%," It's more like "There's a 90% chance that the real statistic is within this 8 point range, and most likely it's in the center, or the number reported."

Also, as another site pointed out, the actual margin is 2.5% because the results were lopsided. Results around 50/50 have more error than results around 70/30, which would have more error than those around 90/10.

That said, there are plenty of possibilities:
1. racism
2. the ballot initiatives in 2004 drove gays to Kerry, but there weren't enough to drive them towards Obama in 2008
3. as some people on this thread indicated, they're tired of democrats taking gays for granted
4. racial issues by proxy, like Clinton's campaign, Jeremiah Wright (who's a strong LGBT ally, BTW, no matter how many comments we got here at TBP saying he was a homophobe), and Obama's position on marriage
5. More Republicans have come out since 2004, weighting the results in the other direction
6. Bush's campaign was more homophobic than McCain's in 2008
7. The LCR endorsement actually meant something

It's probably a combination of all of the above, but that statistic still bothers me. It's not saying that we just moved towards McCain for any number of non-LGB-specific reasons - it's saying that LGB people specifically had a bigger problem with Obama than any other group of people in America.

And, as someone pointed out above, LGB POC probably moved towards Obama, meaning that it was white LGB people who had such a problem with him that they outweighed other people in the community.

Scott Kaiser Scott Kaiser | November 7, 2008 9:06 PM

I'm leaning to the idea that gay Republicans really did like McCain, whereas in 2004 they couldn't bring themselves to vote for another Bush term.

LGB? What happened to the T, Comrade Blaze? A purge already?

Scott Kaiser Scott Kaiser | November 7, 2008 9:12 PM

No insult or offense intended to the T segment.

As Kathryn clarified for us further up the comment thread, the exit polling involved in these figures does not indicate that transgendered people were included in the sampling.

Comrade? I kinda like the sound of that....

Thanks for the clarification, Scott. My apologies for assuming the worst, Alex.

I think you mean LGB voters - T voters weren't included in exit polling.

My strong impression is that we T voters supported Obama much more strongly than we did Kerry. After all - Kerry didn't include transgender people in the platform & didn't support an inclusive ENDA.

Scott Kaiser Scott Kaiser | November 7, 2008 11:40 PM

You are right.

As Kathryn pointed out earlier in this comment thread, transgender people do not appear to have been included in the exit polling that these figures represent.

I will see about adding an update to the post but changing the actual title would probably break links, etc.

Nerissa Belcher | November 8, 2008 5:20 AM

I'm a MTF TS and am White. I recently started work following completing my BSN (nursing) degree. In the two instances I interviewed with gay HR people, both White males, I was denied employment. I ended up getting a job following interviewing with straight Black females.

My point is desired gender/race stereotypes are more emphasized in the gay community than the straight one. John McCain is the stereotypical "ideal" angry White macho male. A role model for gay White men if you will. Barack Obama is (gasp!) Black and has a softer, more diplomatic touch (dare I say feminine?). Anathema to much of the majority White, gay, (usually) pretending to be macho gay community.

IMO the LGBT needs to address its own gender and race prejudices and this election demonstrates my point.

While I do think that racism is alive and well in the lesbian/gay community, what the exit polling data would seem to suggest, if you are looking to racism as the explanatory factor, is that other than older americans, lesbians and gays are the only ones that let their racism impact their vote. You would need a pretty powerful explanation for that one for me to buy it.

I think the margin of error/small sample size is a possibility, but here is another one:

in 2008, more Republican-voting gays were willing to admit to pollsters that they were gay than they typically were in 2004. A lot of progress has been made since 2004, and it could literally be that Republican-leaning gays are less closeted now than four years ago. That could be the entire difference right there.

Again, I'm not trying to relieve us (white queers) for what racism we do have, just wanting to be careful that we consider whether this particular data tells us that or not.

Scott Kaiser Scott Kaiser | November 10, 2008 1:31 AM

I somewhat doubt that it is merely less gays & lesbians self-identifying. Exit poll data collectors would have continued polling until they had a sample size large enough to be statiscally significant to compare to 2004.

Let's suppose an exit pollster was looking for a sample size of 1000 gays & lesbians (I'm making up that number), and they had 999 self-identified gays & lesbians who had already answered the poll. They poll me and ask me if I'm gay, but I say no. They wouldn't stop, they would continue to ask the next person, and the next until they reached the sample size they wanted.

It's all *much* more complex than this, but I think you get the idea.