by Daphne Chow on Friday, May 18th, 2012
On Wednesday, May 9th, Barack Obama became the first US President to openly support gay marriage. His announcement received strong reactions from both his fans and critics. With the presidential election looming at the end of this year, Obama may very well have harmed his chances of being reelected by undermining his support from groups traditionally opposed to same-sex marriage, including rural voters, black evangelicals, and Hispanics.
Obama’s proclamation has certainly acquired the president a mass of followers, specifically within the gay community. “Out-of-the-closet” celebrities of all professions have praised Obama for his moral courage; TV host Ellen Degeneres even gave him a standing ovation during one of her shows. Degeneres and other such influential figures can benefit the campaign by earning the president supporters from among their fans.
America’s youth are another community that enthusiastically backs the President. In the 2008 election, a strong majority of young voters leaned towards Obama. According to a 2011 survey by the Public Religion Research Institute, 62% of Americans under 30 support gay marriage. Obama’s announcement will continue to appeal to a younger crowd that supports progression on social issues.
However, while Obama has gained many avid supporters from the youth and LGBT community, these two groups alone will not be enough to win the upcoming election. In the 2008 presidential election, it was key swing states that drove Obama towards his win over John McCain. Out of these battleground states, only two out of fourteen states favor gay marriage; seven oppose it, while five are reported to be split relatively evenly. Furthermore, the Pew Research Center states that youth voters, who most strongly support gay marriage, were not the deciding factor in Obama’s victory. With or without their votes, Obama still would have won. Despite youth voters’ active backing, their votes might not make a significant impact in the upcoming election.
As the November election approaches, Mitt Romney is relying on his extensive knowledge of the economy to help him win the presidency, while Obama tends to focus on a broader range of issues, as with his May 9th speech exhibited. Many of the President’s critics, including Romney supporters, propose that Obama is using gay rights as a distraction from his failure to fix the economy. Focusing on economic reform policies, as he did in 2008, is unlikely to resound as strongly with voters given the lackluster state of the recovery. By concentrating more on social issues, like gay rights, Obama could be using his announcement to shift the public’s focus from his shortcomings. Many might view Obama’s timing to be proof of his careful ploy to gain a second term in office.
Obama has certainly lost support in some areas, particularly among black evangelicals, while gaining liberal youth, gay rights activists, and others. While Obama supporting gay rights is hardly surprising, his openness about this position may dissuade many voters. Only time will tell the impact of this announcement on the 2012 presidential election.
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