Study Finds Education, Income Biggest Factor in Prop 8 Vote

by Kilian Melloy

EDGE Staff Reporter

Thursday December 4, 2008

In the weeks since California voters narrowly approved a constitutional amendment that revokes the previously-existing right of gay and lesbian families to marry, an array of factors have been examined by the media and by blog commentators searching to pinpoint what, precisely, the determining factor in the vote might have been.

Everything from the leadership of the campaign to preserve marriage equality to the attitudes of minorities and the role played by the Mormon, Protestant, and Catholic churches in funding the measure and getting out the vote has been scrutinized.

A new statewide poll has arrived at new, and startling, conclusion, reports the Sacramento newspaper The Mercury News in a Dec. 3 article: the most crucial divide between those voting against the ballot initiative, known as Proposition 8, is one of education and income.

The Mercury News reported that the survey also revealed several other surprises. Blacks, widely reported to have voted 70 percent in favor in rescinding marriage rights for gay and lesbian families, were shown in the poll, conducted by the Public Policy Institute of California, to be markedly less supportive of the amendment than originally believed.

At the same time, a higher percentage of Latinos turned out to be in favor of restricting marriage rights: 61 percent, according to the new poll, which surveyed 2,003 California residents.

The overall numbers, as determined by the poll, show that 48 percent of Californians remain opposed to marriage equality for gays and lesbians, with 47 percent in favor of restoring marriage equality.

The most important single demographic difference between supporters of the amendment and advocates of marriage parity, however, is one of education and income, according to Mark Baldassare, the president of the Public Policy Institute of California.

The article cited Baldassare as saying that 57 percent of voters with a college degree opposed the amendment, while 69 percent of voters whose education had stopped after gradating high school cast their vote in favor of rescinding marriage equality.

Said Baldassare, "Both among whites and non-whites, among college graduates and among upper-income voters, Prop. 8 lost."

Continued Baldassare, "Among both whites and non-whites, among non-college graduates and lower-income voters, Prop. 8 won.

"It seems to me that some of what we attributed to race and ethnic differences really had to do with a socioeconomic divide in regard to same-sex marriage."

The Election Day results indicating that race was a major factor were superficial; the deeper meaning had to do with economic prospects and education opportunities, the article said.

The Mercury News reported that although young voters largely opposed the amendment, that does not translate automatically into a future win for marriage equality.

Should the economy remain sluggish and educational opportunities not be expanded, suggested Baldassare, "then you are not necessarily going to see a situation where you have growing support for gay marriage in California."

Other demographic data indicated that Proposition 8 also drew support from churchgoers and conservatives. Baldassare was uncertain as to why education and income differences would have factored into the picture as decisively as they did, but he did offer an opinion.

"It has to do with exposure to different ideas.

"It's perceptions about lifestyle differences, tolerance for differences, broader view of social trends and issues--all those things tend to come with more education."

Continued Baldassare of the results, "I didn't really expect to find this... I hadn't thought about probing [those particular demographic links]."

The article noted that the same poll also uncovered demographic trends with respect to a bond inititiative to build a high-speed rail service (non-Caucasians supported the measure with 60 percent of the vote) and a losing ballot question that Latinos, voters without a college education, and churchgoers also favored heavily--a parental notification measure in cases of underage abortion patients.

But those other ballot questions drew interest from only 5 percent or less of the voters overall, whereas the question of who may marry whom under the law brought a mush higher level of response--from 63 percent of voters.

Said Baldassare, "We can say from our polling that we've never seen anything like the interest that was generated by Prop. 8."

Yes on 8 campaign manager Frank Schubert viewed the surveys conclusions with skepticism, saying, "I think it is true that there is a socioeconomic component to the vote on Prop. 8.

"I also think it's not nearly as clear-cut as perhaps the research is suggesting."

Added Schubert, "There's lots of overlapping between African-Americans and Latinos and other demographics in terms of how they look at Prop. 8."

Schubert continued, "You can have a liberal, middle-income African-American voting in favor of traditional marriage, and I don't know how you ascribe one particular component of a person's makeup to how they voted the way they did."

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Associate Arts Editor and Staff Contributor. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.