Michael Crawford

Stop Blaming Black Voters for Prop. 8's Passage

Filed By Michael Crawford | November 12, 2008 12:30 PM | comments

Filed in: Politics, Politics
Tags: California Proposition 8, marriage equality, Nate Silver, Prop. 8

While white LGBT activists are pointing fingers at African-American voters for the passage of Prop. 8, Nate Silver of Five Thirty Eight takes a more clear-eyed view in a post called Prop. 8 Myths. Nate was hands down the best analyst of polling data in the recently ended election.

Certainly, the No on 8 folks might have done a better job of outreach to California's black and Latino communities. But the notion that Prop 8 passed because of the Obama turnout surge is silly. Exit polls suggest that first-time voters -- the vast majority of whom were driven to turn out by Obama (he won 83 percent [!] of their votes) -- voted against Prop 8 by a 62-38 margin. More experienced voters voted for the measure 56-44, however, providing for its passage.

Now, it's true that if new voters had voted against Prop 8 at the same rates that they voted for Obama, the measure probably would have failed. But that does not mean that the new voters were harmful on balance -- they were helpful on balance. If California's electorate had been the same as it was in 2004, Prop 8 would have passed by a wider margin.

Nate goes on to say that the passage of Prop. 8 was more a generational matter than a racial one. Older voters of all colors were more likely to vote for Prop. 8. Younger voters were more likely to vote against the anti-gay amendment.

It is also worth noting again that Black voters accounted for 10% of the votes cast on November 4. And, while 70% of the Black voters who cast a ballot on Prop. 8 supported, that number was not enough to make the difference in the amendment's passage.

It was widely anticipated that because of the excitement surrounding Obama's campaign that voter turnout would approach record levels. The No on Prop. 8 campaign should have better factored that expectation in their campaign efforts and waged a more aggressive outreach effort to garner the support of voters of color, young voters, newly registered voters and women.

There has been much discussion on Bilerico and elsewhere about what went wrong and undoubtedly there will be more discussion. One point that definitely has to be debunked is the myth that it was Black voters who were only 10% of the electorate that caused the passage of Prop. 8.

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Thanks for sharing this. Once again, people of color (specifically African Americans, largely) are scapegoated when - even if all African Americans voted as a bloc together, which obviously did not happen - that 10% of the vote would not be enough on its own to win or lose this election. The group that has this particular power is white people - but, of course, whites aren't even typically viewed as a "group" to begin with, so that wouldn't even cross many people's minds.
Also interesting to note the generational divide - that for all the nasty things said or thought about young people, at the risk of sounding cheesy - that's where some of the hope is.

Michael Crawford Michael Crawford | November 12, 2008 3:54 PM

I think that as we move forward we should definitely focus in building support among younger people and developing young LGBT leadership.

Don Sherfick Don Sherfick | November 12, 2008 1:17 PM

Monday-morning quarterbacking knows no sexual orientation or gender identity, nor political party or campaign (witness the McCain/Palin post-election meltdown). There were tears in our interracial household shed on November 4th when the 270 electoral map went sufficiently blue so as to signal a significant moment in history. The narrow success of Proposition 8 also signals such a moment, but in the latter case it seem obvious that this moment, when viewed over a longer period of time and from the later vantage point of less passion, as a momentary plateau in the move toward equality. I deeply regret and condem the racism inherent in a lot of the post-mortems. We must proceed with all deliberate speed not to go there.

Any figures out there on racial/ethnic breakdown of gay marriage among YOUNG voters.

Not to rain on your parade, Crawford; but looking at Morehouse College, the premier university for young black men, things don't look very promising even with youth.

Michael Crawford Michael Crawford | November 12, 2008 3:58 PM


I hate to rain on your parade, but Morehouse is in Atlanta not California. And, since Prop. 8 was about California, I don't think that Morehouse has much relevance here.

BTW, HRC has been working with the faculty and student population at Morehouse for a number of years through its outreach programs to Historically Black Colleges and Universities.

What are you doing to make a difference?

California was not the point, dear. I hope that the fact that homophobia in minorities is a problem EVERYWHERE courses through your precious head. outreach should not be limited to a single state.

As for what I was doing? Before moving away from Florida, working in Hialeah with a predominantly Republican and conservative Cuban crowd with the YES foundation as a volunteer.

What did you do, besides spew your Obama mantras to your choir of Democratic friends?

Michael Crawford Michael Crawford | November 12, 2008 7:27 PM

I have ten years of experience organizing at the national and state level for LGBT equality.

I as an organizer of the Millennium March in 2000 which brought together 800,000 people.

I spent five years on staff with HRC and was associate field director working with state advocacy groups on legislative strategy, grassroots outreach and electoral organizing.

I was communications director for Energy Action.

I now serve on the board of directors of the DC LGBT Center, chair DC for Marriage and have been blogging for two years.

BTW, I never said that outreach should only be done in one state. I am a definite proponent of a 50 state strategy to LGBT equality.

Also, I didn't just talk to my Democratic friends about Obama. I spoke to everyone who would listen or read my blog posts. I also helped to led more than 100 LGBT volunteers from DC to five cities in Southern Virginia to get out the vote for Obama.

To get the vote out for...Obama. Impressive resume you've got.

Again, to lecture me on minority outreach, what have you done, besides cozying up in a hospitable environment for years? 100 volunteers through that horrible, horrible place; I'm moved. Try taking families one-on-one concerning their children's fears of being kicked to the streets because the Catholic filth inside them outprioritizes their children, and often have those fears confirmed by the parents. Try dealing with that--instead of your parades-- before telling me I do nothing for my people.

Michael Crawford Michael Crawford | November 12, 2008 8:41 PM

I get it now. Rather than read what I actually wrote, you make up things that make it sound like I am attacking you.

I never said that you haven't done anything for "your community." I asked what had you done.

If you want to criticize and make snide comments about me to make yourself feel better, go right ahead. I am happy to be of some service to you.

I will, however, no longer engage in conversation with you because you are not looking for a discussion, you are looking for a place to spew your negativity.

Don't be coy, as if your inquiry hadn't been meant to silence me. It was a snide inquiry, and you know it. Don't go calling the kettle black, Mr. Pot.

I really just don't understand what you're attacking in Michael's post and his subsequent replies to your comments.

Frankly, it's racist to consider people of color one giant voting bloc that you see as a problem for progress in the LGBT community. Really really really racist.

And I really don't understand this "what have you been doing" argument too.

I really don't understand why comments like this on Bilerico get approved. Every day that I venture into the comments thread more hateful comments appear. It really makes me not want to read this blog anymore, Bill.

Is that the same HRC that joined with the Barney Frank Democrats and the Benedict Arnold Republicans to gut ENDA last year?

Is that the HRC who’s claim to fame is their ability to raise money and squander it wining and dining Democrat Congress members who couldn’t care less about us?

I believe it is.

Michael -

thanks for linking to this. It is really important that good analysis of the exit polls (including questions about their accuracy) gets out.

One part of your post sticks out for me, though. You wrote, "While white LGBT activists are pointing fingers at African-American voters." It sticks out because I am reading it (perhaps mistakenly) as implying that "all" white LGBT activists are taking this position and that "white lgbt activists" are the only ones taking it.

The fact of the matter is that some (and maybe only "a small portion") of white LGBT activists (along with some non-white LGBT activists) are pointing fingers at African-American voters.

I am not sure if I am writing (as a white gay guy in California) to assure you that it isn't "all" white LGBT activists or to ask you to rethink how you are framing the issue. Maybe both.

Regardless, I can tell you without reservation that a lot of white LGBT folks in California do not blame African-American voters for Prop 8's passage and are making that position known in formal and informal ways every chance we get.

Of course, your intent may have never been to signify that "all" white LGBT activists were making these claims, but only to state the fact that there are white LGBT activists who are doing this. In which case, I'd simply echo your position that they are wrong to do so and add to it that (a) my experience is that their opinion is in the minority among white LGBT folks and (b) unfortunately, they are not alone in this mistaken belief (as some non-white people are voicing it as well).

Michael Crawford Michael Crawford | November 12, 2008 4:00 PM


I did not mean to suggest that all white LGBT people are pointing fingers at Black voters for the passage of Prop. 8.

I agree that it is clearly not all white LGBT activists pointing the finger (and Michael didn't say all), but this is a good reminder to me of my white privilege, especially in the context of the queer community. I can depend on the fact that I won't be seen as a member of racial group and my opinion will only be ascribed to me and not lumped together with a bunch of other people (and "white voters" aren't being blamed here even though they constitute the majority of voters). So even though Michael didn't say "all," I might have the urge to clarify that I'm not one of the white people doing it because it's uncomfortable to always be seen as a member of a group, representing and defending its actions, and this is just a taste of that... and to possibly make it clear that I'm one of the good white folks not doing XYZ action. (And these other white folks in the community are ones I probably need to work with most.)

The fact is that even if all African Americans voted for Prop 8 that's not enough to have swung the vote.

Not much is known about The CNN exit poll that's began all the race baiting and hysteria. My hunch is that it is a serious problem but not so much among ‘activists’ as it is among a layer of not so closeted racists who wanted an excuse to taunt blacks. One of the key questions we don’t know is which county was polled (it was only done in one county), and which precincts. We just don’t know but it makes a big difference if it was LA, Alameda or Riverside. Knowing that would let us judge the worth of CNN’s polling.

The main culprits in California were, in order of the harm they did, Obama/Biden and McCain/Palen, then the various flavors of christer cults and lastly some serious deficiencies in the No on 8 campaigns leadership resulting from their too close for comfort association with the Democrat Party.

No on 8 raised and spent a good deal more money that Yes on 8 but squandered it on Boy George themed ads that basically asked “Do you really want to hurt me.” Yes, they did. No on 8, as I feared and noted for the last three months abandoned the field of battle in minority communities and never made use of our allies in unions, MALDEF and the NAACP. They refused to criticize Obama/Biden for their open and repeated opposition to same sex marriage (SSM) and support for the imposition of second class citizenship with civil unions.

The result was as predictable as it was disastrous. Late in the campaign when the Yes on 8 bigots ran a very effective ad campaign using Obama’s narrow-minded bigotry about SSM against us No on 8 was dumfounded. They didn’t have any answers. Obama’s bigotry rather than his insulting last minute opposition to Prop 8 allowed 22% of self-described liberals, aka Democrats and 82% of Euroamerican Republicans to vote for Prop 8.

Obama is a right centrist politician who owes his victory to the rich and to christian bigots. They own him.

Please be careful about how you use statistics to support your assertions.

Nate Silver cites the statistics on "first-time voters," stating that they voted against Prop 8 by a margin of 62-38.

I don't see how you can then equate "first-time voters" to black voters. A "first-time voter" is just that - someone who is voting for the first time. No one ever said that the large number of black and Latino voters who turned out to vote for Obama were necessarily all "first-time voters."

Let's just look at the numbers for a second. Based on numbers on the Secretary of State's web site as of November 12...
6,068,393 votes YES (52.3%)
5,544,962 votes NO (47.7%)
11,613,355 votes TOTAL

If 10% of the voters were black, then there were about 1,161,335 black voters. And if they voted 70/30 in favor of Prop 8, then there were approximately
812,934 black votes YES (70%)
348,401 black votes NO (30%)

If we subtract those numbers from the overall votes, then we have
6,068,393 - 812,934 = 5,255,459 non-black votes YES (50.3%)
5,544,962 - 348,400 = 5,196,562 non-black votes NO (49.7%)

Therefore, Prop 8 would still have passed, even without black voters. But it would have been a LOT closer - only about 60,000 votes difference, not 500,000 votes.

So, black voters did have a huge impact on the outcome of that vote. And, as people have pointed out, black voters came out in record numbers, due to having Obama on the ballot.

Don't get me wrong - I'm not blaming Obama, and I'm not blaming blacks. Ultimately, I blame religion and bigotry - and "bigotry" is not limited to white people.

I find this Prop. 8 squabble depressing - if a white person wants to analyze voting patterns by race, there are ways to do this that don't involve blaming and racist rhetoric. Presenting the exit poll stats with a grain of salt regarding sample size and methodology, and understanding that one cannot dice small data sets into subsets and hope to get statistical trends, is basic. It is perfectly useless to blame, much more helpful to analyze dispassionately and to present findings in context with the rest of the poll info. One can analyze type and distribution of campaign efforts, speculate on reasons why certain people were not influenced and whether a different approach would have made a difference, and so on. People would be wise to remember that not all political activity must be electoral or lobby oriented. Basic public education about the issue needs to start WELL BEFORE the campaign season. Once the ads start hollering away, people get driven by emotion and not reason.

I just got off the phone from doing an interview with a local (mostly black) radio show with an African-American host.

Out of all of the calls, one person was lukewarm to our rights. The rest stood with us and called the African Americans vs gays controversy nothing more than what it is - an attempt to divide and conquer.