May 23, 2008

Optimistic Headline, But RTFA

The Fish Wrapper can barely conceal its partisanship in the upcoming same-sex marriage initiative fight. You can tell that from reading the headline and the first paragraph of its article reporting on its findings in its poll about the issue.

Here is the critical datum from the poll: registered voters in California support an amendment to the state constitution to prohibit same-sex marriages by a margin of 54% in favor to 35% against. That's a 19 point lead. Another piece of depressing data for those of us who think same-sex marriage is a good thing: demographically, the proponents of the constitutional amendment tend to be older, and older voters tend to be higher-propensity voters, too. The dividing line appears to be at about 45 years of age.

But the Fish Wrapper puts prominently in its reporting all reasons to believe that the vote will be very close -- more than half of the poll respondents do not see anything morally wrong with gay relationships, more than half agree that heterosexual marriages are unaffected by same-sex marriages, and that what matters is that the people in the relationship love one another. And then there's this bit of pure speculation on the part of the Fish Wrapper: "...because ballot measures on controversial topics often lose support during the course of a campaign, strategists typically want to start out well above the 50% support level. [¶] 'Although the amendment to reinstate the ban on same-sex marriage is winning by a small majority, this may not bode well for the measure,' said Times Poll Director Susan Pinkus."

I don't know that this last remark is necessarily true. I rather doubt that anyone who holds a strong opinion on this issue is going to change their mind simply because it is controversial. I hold a strong opinion on the issue and will vote that opinion no matter what. I suspect that there are lots of people who hold the opposite opinion of me, and hold it equally strongly, and that they too are unconcerned with how controversial the opinion or the ballot measure is or might become. They will behave accordingly at the ballot box.

So it appears that the advocates of same-sex marriage in California have their work cut out for them. The challenge will be voter registration and GOTV drives -- since the bulk of the opponents of the initiative (and thus supporters of SSM) are younger and apparently not yet registered, that means that they need to be registered and they need to get incentivized to vote. The good news is that they tend to be more urban and suburban rather than rural, and so registration and GOTV drives will be logistically more feasible. More good news is that such voters will tend to be Democrats or to lean Democratic in their voting disposition, and they will be excited by the Obama campaign -- which will also be of assistance in reaching out to, registering, and getting these new voters to the polls. Mitigating that actual cause for optimism, though, is the fact that California is not "in play" for the election so neither Presidential campaign can be expected to do much here other than raise money to be spent elsewhere.

I'll stick with my earlier prediction that yes, it will be a very close vote. I'm moderately surprised that all it takes is a bare majority of votes to amend the state Constitution; I confess I'd never really looked at that matter before. Regardless of the politics of this issue, I think that maybe an amendment to the state constitution ought to require a super-majority. Constitutions should be things that embody enduring and important values and ideas about government, not the momentary whims of evanescent electoral behavior. Therefore, a constitution should only be amended with an expression of powerful democratic support. If a bond measure requires a super-majority vote, then so should an amendment to the fundamental laws of the state. I like that the Federal Constitution is hard to amend and I wish the California Constitution would be the same way.

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