Don't blame Proposition 8 on African-Americans

A new study contradicts claims that African-American voters led to the passage of California's gay marriage ban.

By Vincent Rossmeier

Published January 9, 2009 10:00PM (EST)

In the wake of California's passage of Proposition 8, which banned same-sex marriage in the state, many speculated that it was homophobia among African-Americans that led to the  measure's success, since exit polls suggested that as many as 70 percent of black voters supported the ban. Now, a new study by Patrick J. Egan of New York University and Kenneth Sherrill of Hunter College (h/t Hilzoy) purports to debunk that notion.

In their statistical analysis, Egan and Sherrill found that the exit polls dramatically overstated African-American support for Proposition 8. According to the two professors, 58 percent of African-Americans voted for the measure. By comparison, 59 percent of Latinos and Hispanics supported it, along with 49 percent of whites and 48 percent of Asians.

Egan and Sherrill came to their conclusions after doing a precinct-level statistical analysis of voting data. They examined the voting in Alameda, Los Angeles, Sacramento, San Diego and San Francisco counties, where 66 percent of California's African-American voters live. Using estimates of the precincts' racial composition, they were able to then create an aggregate model comparing race and support of Proposition 8. The report calls the exit poll results an "outlier," and surveys conducted by two separate agencies just before the election seem to affirm Egan and Sherrill's conclusions. Both surveys found that the statistical differences between African-American support for Proposition 8 and the feelings of Californians generally were insignificant.

So what did account for the results of the vote? "Party identification, age, religiosity and political view had much bigger effects than race, gender or having gay and lesbian family and friends," the authors say. They add:

African Americans are more religious (as measured by frequency of attendance at religious services) than any other racial or ethnic group of California voters ... controlling for frequency of religious attendance helps explain why African Americans supported Proposition 8 at higher levels than the population as a whole. Among Californians who attend worship at least weekly, support for Proposition 8 was nearly uniform across all racial and ethnic groups. Among those who attend worship less than weekly, majorities of every racial and ethnic group voted "no" on Proposition 8.

Egan and Sherrill found that 70 percent of those who attend church weekly reported voting for the measure. Eighty-one percent of those identifying themselves as Republicans also voted for it.

In related news, on Thursday, Proposition 8 supporters filed a suit that seeks to have a federal judge invalidate the state laws that require the publication on the state's Web site of the identities of campaign donors who give $100 or more. The plaintiffs say the disclosure policy restricts free speech and has led to acts of vandalism against them.

Vincent Rossmeier

Vincent Rossmeier is an editorial assistant at Salon.

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