If the President expects to get a boost at the ballot box over his flip-flop on same-sex marriage, the composition of North Carolina’s vote on Tuesday might indicate a big problem in his strategy. Obama came out publicly against Amendment One, which shifted the state’s ban on same-sex marriage from statute to constitutional amendment, and opponents railed against the loss as a victory for bigotry. However, that message might not sell well in the Tarheel State or in other swing states when black voters supported the constitutional ban by a 2-1 margin:
African-Americans voted 2-1 in favor of the North Carolina amendment banning gay marriage Tuesday, but the White House is betting that black voters there and beyond will stick with the president, despite broad resistance to legalization.
While there’s faith that African-Americans will turn out strong at the polls to protect Obama’s legacy, pollsters point out that while opposition to same-sex marriages has fallen in the black community, it’s still just a point shy of 50 percent — enough to affect black turnout, at least theoretically, in an election where every vote will matter.
Obama’s statement rocked the political world. But it also underscored a widely-held belief that African-American voters are closer to Republicans than Democrats when it comes to gay marriage.
That’s a big problem for Obama in North Carolina, because as Politico’s Joseph Williams points out, African-American turnout was key in winning the state for Obama in 2008. Obama only won by 14,000 votes in that race, and so even a small level of dropoff in voter turnout in this demographic would be deadly to Team Obama’s hopes to retain North Carolina.
However, that’s really a minor problem for Obama. No one thinks that black voters are going to shift support to Romney over gay marriage, or at all for any reason. Turnout and enthusiasm could be issues, but gay marriage is the least of the drivers on that score. On Tuesday, 199,000 Democrats chose no option in the presidential preference poll rather than vote for Obama’s nomination, slightly more than one in every five Democrats who voted. That’s 14 times the margin by which Obama won in 2008, and that’s not because of same-sex marriage, which is dead last on voter priorities.
The real problem with this data will be the derailing of the “bigotry” claim against those who oppose the legalization of same-sex marriage. If progressives think they will win elections by calling two-thirds of black voters in North Carolina bigots, they’re in for a rude awakening in November. If they push that message in other swing states, then Obama will be working on his presidential library next January.
Update: On Twitter, Dean’s Logic reminds me that the final number of votes for “no preference” in NC’s Democratic presidential primary was over 199,000, not 140,000. I’ve corrected it above.