By Nick DAngelo
Last week, several articles celebrated President Obama becoming the first sitting president in United States history to openly support same-sex marriage. But what the commentaries did not discuss were the political consequences of the President’s announcement. Let’s be clear, this article is neither opposing nor supporting Barack Obama’s decision. Rather, it presents as an examination of how the decision affects the 2012 election climate and the president’s own reelection.
During his first term President Obama has been continually criticized by his liberal base: the African American community, labor unions and the LGBTQ movement. His difficult position has forced him to balance a base he is expected to represent with the reality of a necessary centrist image. After his vice president and education secretary broke rank-and-file messaging, President Obama was forced to take a position. His self-described “evolution” on the issue of same-sex marriage has inspired a base that has quietly grumbled for four years, but has also united his opponents.
Governor Mitt Romney has never been a social conservative. During his 1994 U.S. Senate race against Ted Kennedy, he even attempted to run to the left of the “Liberal Lion” on some social issues. But the President’s announcement gives a reason for wary neo-conservatives to galvanize around a man they have repeatedly rejected for two years. President Obama’s announcement will stir his own shaky base, one that he was able to use to his advantage in 2008. In the process though, he has helped Romney earn the respect of the far right, who the Governor was never able to use and never supported by.
Last week, American Values president Gary Bauer, an opponent of same-sex marriage, told Fox News he believed Obama had taken “six or seven states he carried in 2008 and put them in play” with his endorsement of same-sex marriage. In fact, recent polls show the President losing ground fast in Virginia and North Carolina, heavy red states he was able to win over McCain four years ago. The latest Rasmussen poll shows Romney up by double-digits in the wake of the Tar Heel state’s constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage.
Perhaps even more important to 2012 as an election year though are the down-ticket elections that President Obama’s announcement could affect. There are tough races that could be Republican pick-ups in Virginia, Nebraska, Wisconsin, Florida, Montana and Missouri—and that’s just the United States Senate. A controversial social issue that differs in stances, not only across party, but also across region and generation, becomes an unknown variable in a tight election year. In southern and western states where constitutional amendments against same-sex marriage are concentrated, the issue could severely decrease Democrat’s likelihood of maintaining old strongholds.
It’s clear that there was little political calculation in the President’s endorsement. Senator Dianne Feinstein of California, a leading Democrat of a liberal state, said there was “no political calculus because it’s not smart,” referring to the decision to back same-sex marriage. “It doesn’t make any sense,” she said. In fact, a recent USA Today/Gallup poll taken after the announcement showed 26 percent were less likely to vote for Obama because of his support for same-sex marriage, while just 13 percent were more likely to back him. While the shift is not great, in a close election it could make the difference.
President Obama may have made his decision to support same-sex marriage to unify his base, and aid his fundraising machine (he’s already taken in millions because of the announcement). If he did make the announcement for political purposes, his team may have grossly miscalculated the pros and cons. Despite the moral integrity of an evolutionary stance, the issue will not win President Obama the election. In fact, it may lose it for him.