Did Gay Marriage Decide the Election?

Alex Knapp calls BS on the post-election meme that the press seems to have settled upon:

Look, gay marriage was mentioned, but it was totally ancillary to the campaign. Both candidates were against gay marriage and said so. Maybe I’ve just been slipped in here from a parallel universe, but in the campaign I watched, the central issues were terrorism and the war in Iraq. I guarantee you that a majority of people who voted for Bush voted on those issues, not gay marriage. And I also guarantee that if BushCo sees “moral values†as opposed to fighting terrorism as their winning issue and governs accordingly, the Democrats are going to make a big comeback in 2006.

A fair point. Certainly, the election was waged primarily on foreign policy issues, especially the Iraq War, with Kerry doing his best to focus attention on domestic issues, especially jobs. There were over 115 million votes cast for president and probably several things that influenced each of those voters.

The media love to play the single factor game, though. Ronald Reagan only won because he was charming. George H.W. Bush wouldn’t have won if Dukakis hadn’t driven that tank. The game is especially easy to play in a close election. Bush beat Kerry by nearly 3%, which is a lot more than most of us expected but still a fairly narrow victory. Given that a significant part of Bush’s base are Christian conservatives, many of whom find the idea of the courts imposing gay marriage positively frightening, it’s not inconceivable that Evangelicals who would otherwise have stayed at home but were motivated by that one issue made the difference.

Of course, the same could be said of any number of things. There may have been enough of a swing among moderate Vietnam veterans who were motivated by the Swift Boat ads to have pushed Bush over the top. Indeed, the phrase, “I actually voted for the $87 billion before I voted against it” probably accounted for 3% of the vote.

The same could be said in the other direction, too. There might have been enough people turned off by Bush’s performance in the first debate–who never watched the subsequent debates–to have turned the tide in Wisconsin, Michigan, and Hawaii and thus forestalling a Bush landslide.

FILED UNDER: 2004 Election, Terrorism, , , , , , , , , , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Paul Burton says:

    With all due respect, you and so many others have missed the message of this election. The sleeping giant has come out of its slumber, and this giant is the MORAL MAJORITY. Yes gay marriage was a part of it but also there were other factors as well. Namely: a desire to return to Traditional Values, an intolerance for Hollywood trying to push their agenda on average Americans, and above all a knowledge that it comes down to GOD – FAMILY – PERSONAL RESPONSIBILITY. Wake up Democrates and realize that serving the vocal special interests is the furthest thing from middle America.

  2. The Moderate Middle says:

    That last comment makes me want to get one of those bumper stickers that says: “The Moral Majority are neither.”

    And I voted for Bush.

  3. susan says:

    Media further proves its irrelevance and its cognitive dissonance. Morals or values issues certainly do not preclude the war on terror, particularly Bush’s head-on approach to fighting it, and his reverence for the military.
    Conservatives–probably even many moderates & libertarians–tire not only of having pop culture shoved down their throats, but of the iconization of pop figures in that culture. Who cares what any of them “think”? They don’t “think”: they preach. We’re not in their choir.
    Bush said many times during the campaign that it’s about leadership; well,leadership is a moral value. Voters approved of his character and his qualities in a general sense, and were not banding together over any single “moral” issue. It’s the whole, moral-to-his-core man–the whole package.
    Kerry, however, seemed to think values/morals/character could be pulled out of a package. Or a hat.
    I am glad to see bloggers addressing this “morals” idea the media thinks it has a clue on. Because, once again, it hasn’t.

  4. Bryan says:

    I think the “parallel universe” theory is correct. I loathe the term “moral majority,” as well, and I consider myself fairly socially and fiscally conservative. MM is prejorative, and just gives the left more ammunition to keep hatemongering over the next four years.

  5. McGehee says:

    What really decided the election was that Krispy Kreme changed the formula for the filling in their jelly doughnuts.

    Makes about as much sense as any other “single factor.”

  6. UnkaWinkie says:

    My guess is that having a gay-marriage initiative on the ballot was indeed instrumental in the election, and especially so on the ballots in Ohio and Michigan. The initiative brought people out in numbers to vote against gay-marriage who would not normally have voted had there been no such driving initiative. It’s certainly been no secret that there are far more people against gay-marriage than there is people for it.

    While there, they just went ahead and checked off Bush-Cheney on the ticket.

    I also believe Florida’s abortion privacy rights initiative had the same effect – bringing people who normally would have not voted to the polls to vote FOR requiring parental notification prior to abortions on minors. In both cases, for both initiatives, these same people would have voted overwhelmingly pro-Republican. Or anti-Democratic, whatever your bent.

  7. hatetheGOP says:

    I think the main problem here is the insistence by “middle-America” that the government care at all about them. The fact that these red state losers, those states suckling at the teat of the REAL America (yes, the northeast and the land of the Hollywood Bablyon), can tweak an election with their hypocrisy and ridiculous moral arguments sickens me. Middle America is what is dragging down this country — a bunch of under-educated, under-producing unsophisticated hicks that care more about two men kissing in public than they do about their children dying or their low to mid-tier jobs evaporating.

    Instead of boo-hooing the loss of a national election because of some inbred morons, it’s time to re-think the borders and shape of “America.” I for one am disgusted at the type of human being associated with the term “patriot.” And the “American way,” which is to say, bigotry and proto-fascism, needs to be destroyed entirely.

    This “experiement in liberty” is turning out poorly, and we need to go back to the drawing board — a board that does not include those in the red states. Let Canada and Mexico have them, since their precious factory jobs they seem to not care about saving are going there anyway.