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Gay rights play limited role in election cycle

Mel Flanagan | Friday, November 2, 2012

With the election approaching rapidly, undecided voters must hone in on the issues most important to them. For some, that paramount issue might be gay rights.

Political science professor Geoffrey Layman said gay issues have played a limited role in this year’s election, despite major developments in gay and lesbian rights recently.

“Like all other issues, they have been dwarfed in importance by the economy,” he said.

These issues have also been sidelined due to Republican hesitation to broach a topic that would likely benefit the Democrats more than their own party, Layman said.

“Public support for same-sex marriage and for gay and lesbian rights more generally has been increasing rapidly,” he said. “These things are very unpopular among the activist base of the GOP, but are much more popular among the undecided voters on whom general election campaigns focus.”

Further, Layman said the limited space in the public mind for moral issues has been occupied by topics besides gay rights.

“The controversies over President Obama’s health care program and especially the HHS mandate have brought abortion and reproductive issues once again to the forefront,” he said.

Layman said the limited focus on gay issues in this election is similar to the 2008 election. Then, as now, the election was dominated by economic crisis.

But in the 2004 election, Layman said the issue of gay rights was a crucial topic that was addressed frequently.

“Same-sex marriage was more important for the 2004 election because key battleground states – Ohio in particular – had same-sex ballot initiatives and those affected the turnout of supporters and opponents of those initiatives in the presidential election,” Layman said.

Although several states had same-sex initiatives on the ballot in 2008, Layman said they did not largely impact the election because they were not battleground states.

Despite the increased prevalence of gay issues in today’s culture, Layman said he does not believe they typically have a large impact on an individual’s vote.

“To the extent that people consider issues at all, they base their voting decisions far more on economic issues than on cultural and moral issues like gay rights, same-sex marriage and abortion,” he said.

He did acknowledge these issues play a large role in determining the votes of certain groups of people.

“For example, gay and lesbian voters themselves and the traditionalist Christian voters who are staunchly opposed to same-sex marriage and other advances in gay and lesbian rights,” Layman said.

Layman said it is difficult to determine for certain whether homosexual citizens tend to ally with a particular party due to the small number of self-identified gay and lesbian voters in national sample surveys.

“However, the existing evidence suggests that gay and lesbian voters lean strongly toward the Democratic Party,” he said.