After Barack Obama endorsed marriage equality during an interview with ABC News in May, media covered his evolution by sounding an alarm — might the president have just thrown away his reelection?
Some warned it could lead to the demise of the coalition of minority voters that had sent Obama to the White House, especially African-Americans and Latinos, who were assumed to be socially conservative. Others picked a list of states the president might have given up by saying the words, "I think same-sex couples should be able to get married."
The Los Angeles Times wrote, "Obama and gay marriage: What he's risking in an election year." Specifically, it predicted, "The move is likely to hurt him in the South."
Bloomberg News headlined it this way: "Obama Gay-Marriage Embrace Is Campaign Risk-Taking Moment." The report suggested Obama had stepped into "the most divisive civil-rights issue in the nation." Like many other reports, it pointed to the risk of losing North Carolina, where voters had just one day earlier approved by a 20-point margin a ballot measure amending their state constitution to ban same-sex marriage. The story implied that Obama's decision might also make the difference in other crucial swing states where marriage bans were passed during recent years — including Florida and Virginia. But assuming that matters puts 30 states in play.
By some accounts, Obama does appear on the verge of losing North Carolina, despite hosting his party's convention there in Charlotte. It was in North Carolina that the Democrats voted to include marriage equality in the platform and several gay and lesbian speakers took the podium. No one seemed to be downplaying Obama's gay-friendly policies, which were touted in a video played from a giant video wall.
FiveThirtyEight blogger Nate Silver on Monday gave Romney a 77.2% chance of pulling North Carolina from Obama's 2008 win column. That means it "leans Romney." The latest from Public Policy Polling, though, shows a tie at 49% each.
In Florida and Virginia, last-minute polls show the president's campaign still has a chance. Silver rates Florida a toss-up and Virginia leaning Obama. As it turns out, the issue of same-sex marriage hasn't been raised much in either place, not even during races for House and Senate seats. In one rare example, a conservative-leaning political consulting group is accused by the Human Rights Campaign of spamming Virginia voters with text messages about President Obama's support for LGBT rights. The messages included:
"Stop Obama from forcing gay marriage on the states. Your vote is your voice."
"Obama supports homosexuality and its radical social agenda. Say No to Obama on Nov 6!"
The HRC filed a complaint with the Federal Communications Commission calling for $1 million in fines. Still, no one there is outwardly worried about the messages' resonance with Virginia voters. "We did it because we don’t think that those kinds of messages should be a part of our political discourse," said spokesman Fred Sainz.
Sainz points out that not only has Obama's support for marriage not hurt him with swing states, it hasn't hurt him with minority voters that political pundits were so concerned about. For example, polls of Latino voters conducted since the announcement actually show Latinos supporting marriage equality by wide margins. Demographic breakdowns of polling data, Sainz says, show that "even voters who disagree on marriage equality still respect the president for voicing his opinion."
Immediately after Obama's announcement, polling on same-sex marriage among black voters began a big turnaround. It helped that the NAACP followed the president with its own endorsement of marriage equality, and so did prominent celebrities such as Will Smith and Jay-Z.
Before the president’s announcement, 44% of blacks supported either marriage rights or civil unions in North Carolina, according to a PPP poll conducted because of the ballot fight. That number shot up to 55% almost immediately after Obama's announcement, with opposition falling dramatically. The trend continued in state and national polls throughout the country.
When it comes to predicting what would happen with the black vote if President Obama supported marriage equality, former White House adviser Van Jones might have said it best. “I think if President Obama came out as gay, he wouldn't lose the black vote," Jones joked while on MSNBC in April. "President Obama is not going to lose the black vote no matter what he does."
Those same stories of consternation that Obama had wrecked his chances included mention of the possibility that supporting same-sex marriage would energize the young people who voted Obama into office the first time. Freedom to Marry's national campaign director, Marc Solomon, says what he sees happening across the country aligns more with best-case scenarios imagined by pundits.
"We've seen only evidence that support for the freedom to marry has helped President Obama," he said. "This election is largely about base mobilization and activation, and the president's base is overwhelmingly and intensely supportive of the freedom to marry."
Solomon says the fact that Obama hasn't shied away from the issue while on the trail is evidence his campaign also saw marriage equality as a winner with his base in the election. Solomon highlights Obama's repeated mention of marriage discrimination in his stump speeches, even in these final days, plus voters have been treated to supportive speeches by first lady Michelle Obama and a surrogate for the president, Massachusetts governor Deval Patrick. Plus the president voiced his support for pro-marriage forces in ballot fights in Maine, Maryland, Minnesota and Washington.
When it comes to a base fight, there's no question Obama's revisited view helped with LGBT voters. He won the endorsement of The Advocate, the first time the magazine had ever backed a candidate for president. Obama appeared on the cover of Newsweek magazine with a rainbow-colored halo above his head and was declared the "First Gay President" in a story by Andrew Sullivan, who described weeping at the news.
It's made a big difference in fund-raising too, as the president traveled to numerous LGBT focused dinners and speeches. Loyal to him are a cadre of high-powered "bundlers" of donations who were "fired up" by the president's announcement.
A Gallup poll of LGBT voters found their support could turn the election. The pollster worked with the Williams Institute to survey an unprecedented number of LGBT voters from June to September and found that Obama's lead ticked up from 47-46 to 47-45 when LGBT voters were added to the mix.
Solomon said all voters see Obama's decision as proof he's "a leader with convictions." A majority of Americans support marriage equality, and Solomon claims "with more intensity on our side than on our opponents' side."
"The freedom to marry is a winning cause," he said, "and the president has embraced it with conviction and eloquence."