It All Comes Down to Race
The wishful scenario many Republicans envisioned after Barack Obama’s change of heart this month on gay marriage—the president’s African-American base, far less supportive of expanding marriage than other parts of his coalition, becomes demobilized or even defects as a result of Obama’s stance—already seems unlikely to be realized. Last Thursday, Public Policy Polling revealed a 36-point swing in black support for gay marriage among Maryland voters, who will have the chance to legalize the practice in a November referendum, since PPP’s last poll on the subject in March. Then, 56 percent had been opposed to the new marriage law and 39 percent supported it. In May, PPP found the numbers nearly reversed: 55 percent supported, and 36 opposed. By all indications, black voters weren’t abandoning Obama over an issue on which they disagreed, but adjusting their opinions to match his.
That notion—that our views toward Obama are stable and everything else is changing around them—has been at the core of Michael Tesler’s groundbreaking survey research throughout the Obama era. Last week, as PPP tracked opinion in Maryland, the Brown University political scientist was reviewing his own national polls conducted since Obama’s switch, which helped moor the movement on gay marriage in a broader, deeper set of attitudes. Not only was Obama’s support pulling blacks toward his position, it was also pushing a segment of whites whom Tesler categorized as “racial conservatives” away from his position. In other words, Obama had such sway over race-conscious voters that they adjusted their positions on gay marriage because of him.