October 28, 2016
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Group Examines Failure Of Gay Marriage Law

LOS ANGELES - The Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) Mentoring Project has released a sweeping and comprehensive independent report which analyzes 10,000 pages of data unreleased during the Prop 8 campaign and concludes that many common conceptions of why the No on 8 campaign lost the November 2008 ballot measure are factually wrong.

Following the passage of Proposition 8 in 2008, media coverage initially and misleadingly attributed African-American support for the proposition as a leading or primary reason for the LGBT community’s loss. This report corrects the record by providing data and analysis that show exactly why same-sex marriage lost in California.

The Prop 8 Report documents that the Yes on 8 campaign successfully exploited anti-gay prejudice through a series of provocative TV ads, leading to a 10-point swing in public opinion against marriage equality. These anti-gay TV ads primarily targeted parents, who moved toward support for Proposition 8 by large margins. In the final six weeks of the campaigns, after exposure to TV ads on which both sides spent a combined $60 million, approximately 687,000 voters moved towards favoring the ban on same-sex marriage. More than 500,000 of these voters were parents with children under the age of 18 living at home. Other groups of voters who moved away from same-sex marriage in large numbers included white Democrats, Independents, and voters in the Greater Bay Area. Prop 8 passed by a margin of just under 600,000 votes.

The data also show that voter confusion worked in favor of same-sex marriage advocates. Had all voters understood how to vote to express their opinions on this issue, Prop 8 would have passed 54% to 46%, by a one million-vote margin, approximately 400,000 votes more than the official 52%-to-48% tally. The report concludes that in future elections where same-sex marriage advocates will need to seek a “Yes” vote in favor of marriage equality, wrong-way voting is likely to be very low. As a result, the report finds that reversing Prop 8 in a Presidential election year will require overcoming a one-million vote deficit.

The report also finds that the “No on 8” campaign had some success combating the Yes on 8 ads targeting parents and stimulating ungrounded fears about children, but only after it offered a direct rebuttal in its TV ads. No on 8’s two-week delay in rebutting Yes on 8’s charges was a costly mistake, the report concludes. The report also notes a similar reluctance by the No on 1 campaign for same-sex marriage in Maine to directly engage such parent-targeted fear-mongering, and that timidity on this subject has historically been a weakness of campaigns against anti-gay ballot measures.

“The report still provides reason for optimism,” says David Fleischer, the report’s author, who spent two years researching and writing the report. “To win, we need to understand why we have lost so many times. The data in this report give us clear explanations for why we keep losing, and having that insight is the first step toward victory in future elections,” Fleischer concluded. 

The report contains a number of recommendations for winning marriage equality around the country, including preempting and rebutting rather than avoiding attacks that exploit anti-gay prejudice, using the time between campaigns to gain additional insight and experience to directly rebut anti-gay attacks, conducting more and better research that is less dependent on polling, and trying out voter communications that focus on the diversity and lived experience of LGBT Americans and those who know us.

About David Fleischer

Fleischer founded the LGBT Mentoring Project in 2007 to provide mentoring, coaching, training and support to leaders of LGBT organizations and campaigns fighting anti-gay ballot measures around the country. He recently joined the L.A. Gay & Lesbian Center to manage its new leadership LAB program, which includes the Center’s Vote for Equality campaign and the LGBT Mentoring Project. Previously, he created and ran the national training program of the Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund (1993-98) and the organizing and training department of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force (1999-2006). Fleischer has helped lead or support campaigns opposing anti-gay ballot measures since 1993.

“The Prop 8 Report” and supporting data and related video are available online at Prop8Report.org.

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