Washington, D.C. -- Now that the primary season is effectively over, the major political parties are planning election strategy. Which states and constituencies will bring victory? Which states and voters need attention? And which can be written off?
But a new survey, released by the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force (NGLTF), for the first time paints a portrait of a political constituency that Democrats and Republicans ignore at their own risk.
"Power At the Polls: The Gay, Lesbian and Bisexual Vote" is based on exit polling data from the 1992 and 1994 elections. The data was originally collected by Voter News Service (VNS), a major national polling organization, and until now has remained largely untapped by the media. The report was produced by the NGLTF Policy Institute. NGLTF is a non-partisan organization. The gay vote survey is an analysis of gay, lesbian and bisexual voter demographics, political persuasions and voting patterns. It provides the first statistically reliable picture of self-identified gay, lesbian and bisexual voters.
"We are releasing this report at this critical time because gay issues have exploded into the 1996 presidential campaign in an unprecedented way," said John D'Emilio, NGLTF Policy Institute director and author of the report. "After a generation of coming out of the closet, gay, lesbian and bisexual Americans are flocking to the polling booths."
The VNS 1992 exit polling data is based on a nationally representative sample of 15,488 voters. The poll allowed gays, lesbians and bisexuals to identify themselves for the first time in a presidential election. Some of the major findings include:
The survey also details who gay voters vote for. In 1992, Clinton received 43 percent of the total popular vote, but 72 percent of the gay, lesbian and bisexual vote. Only Jewish voters and African-American voters provided Clinton with larger margins. The gay vote for Clinton surpassed the percentage of votes he received among union households and Latinos.
But, cautions D'Emilio, the gay vote is not guaranteed to any candidate. "If the only two options in 1996 were to vote Democratic or Republican, the story would seem to be over. But gay, lesbian and bisexual voters have a third option: they can stay home," said D'Emilio.
Evidence from the 1994 elections supports this assertion. In the midterm elections, when gay issues received less attention than in 1992, and when disappointment was still fresh from the Clinton Administration's support of the "don't ask, don't tell" policy, the self-identified gay, lesbian and bisexual vote shrunk by more than a third. "It still remained a heavily Democratic vote, but there were a lot fewer votes cast," said D'Emilio.
Whether voters stay home in 1996 or rush to the polls depends on several factors, said D'Emilio. Will the Democratic party actively court the gay vote, or simply take it for granted? Will the Republican Party castigate the gay community like it did in 1992, or try to avoid polarizing social issues? Will the extremist Christian Right make gays the target of their rhetoric, and thereby galvanize gays, lesbians and bisexual to come out and vote? Will gay organizations succeed in their plans to coordinate massive voter registration drives, and will they be able to mobilize those voters?
"In other words, the Republican Party can antagonize the gay vote, or try to neutralize it," said D'Emilio. "The Democratic Party can effectively mobilize it, or watch it slip away in inaction. To a degree, the survey confirms what we have known only intuitively -- but never had statistically viable data to prove," said D'Emilio. "There is a gay, lesbian and bisexual vote. It is growing, it is concentrated, and it is still untapped."
The survey was released today at a Washington D.C. press conference, which also featured a report by Carmen Vasquez, director of public policy, Lesbian and Gay Community Services Center, New York City, on the "Promote the Vote" gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender national voter registration drive; and Tony Valenzuela and Brenda Schumacher, co-chairs of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender VOICES '96, an ad hoc coalition planning actions at the GOP Convention in San Diego this year.
For a copy of the gay vote report, visit the NGLTF Web site.