A new study released Jan. 6 found that race may not have played as decisive a role in the passage of Proposition 8 in California as initially assumed.
The report, authored by Drs. Patrick Egan of New York University and Kenneth Sherrill of Hunter College, found that political and religious ideologies were more important determining factors than race in whether or not California residents voted in favor of Prop. 8, which amended the state constitution to ban same-sex marriage.
Prop. 8 passed 52.3-47.7 percent in the Nov. 4 election, overturning the California Supreme Court’s May decision to legalize same-sex marriage.
“California’s Proposition 8: What Happened, and What Does the Future Hold?” was commissioned by LGBT organization Evelyn & Walter Haas Jr. Fund and released by the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force Policy Institute.
Egan and Sherrill analyzed precinct-by-precinct results and exit polls, including data from five of the precincts that had the highest number of African-American voters.
Shortly after the vote, reports circulated that as much as 70 percent of African Americans voted in favor of Prop. 8. The researchers, however, adjusted that to 57-59 percent.
Egan and Sherrill found that four factors were the most influential in determining a voter’s position on Prop. 8: party identification, ideology, frequency of religious-service attendance and age.
According to the report, about 81 percent of Republicans, 30 percent of Democrats and 53 percent of independents favored Prop. 8. Democratic voters in the state slightly outweighed the number of Republicans.
About 82 percent of those who considered themselves politically “conservative” backed Prop. 8, in addition to 51 percent of moderate voters and 22 percent of liberals.
The study also found that the more frequently a voter attended religious services, the more likely he or she was to vote for Prop. 8. About 70 percent of those who attended weekly services, which accounted for about 45 percent of all voters, voted for Prop. 8; 48 percent of monthly attendees favored the measure; 44 percent who participated in holiday services voted for the initiative; and only 30 percent of those who said they hardly ever attended services voted for Prop. 8.
About 67 percent of those 65 and older supported Prop. 8, while the measure saw support from 47 percent of those 45-64 — who comprised the largest age group in the election — 48 percent of those 30-44 and 45 percent of voters 18-29.
The researchers determined the impact of each of these voter characteristics on the actual Prop. 8 results by comparing their overall prevalence in the voting population. For instance, the study found that 45.9 percent of voters were male and that men were about 11-percentage points more likely than women to favor Prop. 8; by multiplying the two figures, Egan and Sherrill determined that only about 4.9 percent of votes were affected by gender.
Party identification accounted for 15.2 percent; political ideology for 14.6 percent; frequency of attendance at religious services 11.8 percent; and age 8.7 percent.
The researchers found that race only accounted for about 5.5 percent. The study did find, however, that African Americans typically attend religious services at a much higher rate than whites, Latinos or Asians, and that their religious leanings, not their race, had an impact on their votes.
Andrea Shorter, director of And Marriage for All, said the study may help put to rest the notion that black voters single-handedly pushed Prop. 8 through.
“This study debunks the myth that African Americans overwhelmingly and disproportionately supported Proposition 8,” Shorter said. “But we clearly have work to do with, within and for African-American communities, particularly the black church.”
Jen Colletta can be reached at [email protected].