The higher Pete Buttigieg rises in polls of Iowa, the noisier the media’s going to be about this. A week ago the Daily Mail reported that a focus group commissioned by Buttigieg’s campaign in South Carolina found his sexuality a “barrier” for primary voters there, particularly black voters. The Times tackled the same subject over the weekend, emphasizing the racial divide. Now Morning Consult drops a national poll confirming that voters are skeptical that a gay candidate can win, particularly when you frame the question in terms of how *America* is likely to react to a gay nominee instead of asking someone how *they personally* might.
It’s easier to be honest about an opinion you’re not “supposed to” hold when you’re invited to attribute that opinion to others instead.
In fact, very interestingly, the numbers here change dramatically when you ask people how their neighbors would react to a gay candidate. And not in a good way for Mayor Pete.
According to a POLITICO/Morning Consult poll of registered voters, 50 percent of respondents said they were either definitely or probably ready to have a commander in chief who is openly gay, compared with 37 percent who said they were either definitely or probably not ready.
But voters were more pessimistic when asked whether they thought the country was ready for an openly gay president — 40 percent said they thought the country was ready, with 44 percent saying the country was not ready.
That gap grew even wider when voters were asked whether they thought their neighbors were ready for a gay president. About a quarter of respondents answered affirmatively, while 46 percent said their neighbors were either definitely or probably not ready for a gay president. Pluralities of both Democrats and Republicans, as well as independents, all said they did not believe that their neighbors were ready for a gay president.
In other words, ask someone “Are you ready for a gay POTUS?” and you get net support of +13. Ask them if the country’s ready and that drops to -4. Ask them if their community is — their “neighbors” — and the bottom drops out at -20 (26/46). Not even the prospect of an atheist/agnostic president polled quite as badly as that.
Which is funny, since we’ve had two of those in a row. But I digress.
On Earth 2, where the incumbent president is finishing his second term and each party is forced this year to nominate someone new, I wonder if Buttigieg’s orientation is getting this much media attention. Obviously the press would rather not highlight antipathy to a gay candidate in a Democratic primary, particularly when it’s black voters who seem the most resistant to nominating someone gay. But here on Earth 1, the current president will be on the ballot again next fall and Democrats utterly despise him. Many believe that the country’s future depends upon turning him out of office in 2020. When the stakes are that high, liberal media has no choice but to be ruthless in exposing a candidate’s vulnerabilities, even if they think some of those “vulnerabilities” are a matter of bigotry. If nominating Mayor Pete would fumble away the White House because Trump-skeptic swing voters in the Rust Belt just aren’t cool with a gay president then that fact must be promulgated now before he wins Iowa and then New Hampshire and suddenly it’s too late to stop him. The alternative is four more years of le grande orange.
From the Times’s story last weekend:
“The biggest issue for him is he’s married to a man,” said Phyllis Harris-Drakeford, the Democratic chairwoman of Kershaw County, S.C. “I have no problem with that: You love who you want to love and you have the freedom in this country to do that. But in the South in particular, that’s not well favored.”…
Gabriel Greene, a long-distance truck driver whose son was a football prospect, said he had not heard of Mr. Buttigieg. As a reporter ticked off some details about him — 37 years old, a mayor, a veteran of the war in Afghanistan, married to a man — Mr. Greene interrupted.
“You say he’s married to a man?” he said. “He lost my vote. I believe in Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve.’’…
At a barbecue pit staffed by older Allen alumni, Boston McClean, a retired real estate appraiser, said he could not support a gay presidential candidate because “I’m a Christian.”
A poll released last week placed him at one percent among black voters in South Carolina. Note, by the way, how often the fact that Buttigieg is married comes up in the Times piece. In theory that should make cultural conservatives more at ease with his orientation. He’s hardly the stereotype of a promiscuous gay man, after all; he’s committed to one person. In reality, though, I think his husband Chasten’s high profile on the trail has backfired by reminding voters repeatedly of Buttigieg’s sexuality. If Mayor Pete were single, voters who are wary of gay candidates might tell themselves that it’s not a big part of his life, he’s just really focused on politics, etc. Instead some may view his husband’s presence as a way of “flaunting” it. One of the findings from the focus group of black South Carolina voters, in fact, was that “their preference is for his sexuality not to be front and center.”
Which leaves you to wonder: What part of Warren’s surge in the polls (which seems to have cooled lately, by the way) is a legit product of Warrenmania! versus Dem voters beginning to believe that she’s the only viable compromise among the top four between electability and vision? Bernie’s got the vision but he’s too old, his health is too fragile, and he may seem a bit too radical to the average voter. Biden’s got the electability but he’s also too old and too doddering at times. Who’s to say he wouldn’t implode on the trail next year by saying or doing something that throws a scare into the public about his mental wherewithal? Meanwhile, Buttigieg may have the vision and, as a young white male veteran from the midwest, certainly would have the electability — if not for one thing.
But he does have that one thing, so he’s a nonstarter. In which case, Warren it is.
There’s hope for Mayor Pete, though. The public’s skepticism that a gay candidate can’t possibly win might be susceptible to proof to the contrary. That is, some segment of the skeptics in the Morning Consult poll no doubt really do believe that a gay candidate simply can’t win primaries, just as early polling of the Democratic race in 2007 showed plenty of skeptics (including black Democrats) that a black candidate could win. Why, it’s impossible — right up to the very moment that it isn’t, and then suddenly everyone’s expectations change. Take this poll again the day after Buttigieg wins Iowa and you might find that the number that thinks their neighbors might vote for a gay candidate has suddenly ballooned from 26 percent to 66. Probably still not good enough to beat Trump in a tight race, but stay tuned.