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Crunching the Numbers: Did the Gay Vote Give Obama His Victory?

When President Obama announced his support for same-sex marriage in May, it injected a new sense of enthusiasm in Hollywood. Norman Lear wrote the campaign a check. It was the talk of a fundraiser, two days after the announcement, at the home of George Clooney. And it certainly helped sell out an LGBT event at the Beverly Hilton in early June, headlined by Ellen DeGeneres and Darren Criss.

Then, through the summer and into the fall, Obama’s LGBT support seemed to fade from the spotlight.

Now a number of gay and lesbian orgs are highlighting data that shows that support in the LGBT community made the difference between victory and loss. Micah Cohen writes in the New York Times that support from gays and lesbians was enough to “have a claim on having been decisive,” just as other minority groups helped put Obama over the top. Gay, lesbian and bisexual voters made up 5% of the electorate, and Obama garnered 76% of them, while Romney got just 22%, according to exit polls. Heterosexual voters made up 95%, and Obama and Mitt Romney each garnered 49% of that vote.

In 2008, exit polls showed John McCain got 27% of the LGBT vote, and Obama garnered 70%.

According to research from the Williams Institute at UCLA, the LGBT vote made a difference in Ohio and Florida. Without it, Romney would have won both states. Overall, had Obama not received the LGBT vote, his electoral college margin would have been 285, to Romney’s 253. That’s still enough to win, but much tighter than the 332-206 of the results. Likewise, if Romney had garnered majority support among LGBT voters, he would not have gotten an electoral college majority, but he would have won the popular vote.

Still unclear is exactly what issues made the difference in LGBT voters choosing Obama over Romney, or whether it was the stark contrast between the candidates on same-sex marriage, adoption, civil unions and other issues. The fact that Romney never really wanted to talk about LGBT issues during the general election campaign was in and of itself viewed as a sign that they were no longer an effective wedge issue for Republicans. Obama’s dramatic announcement of support for same-sex marriage, rather than hurting, may very well have helped boost enthusiasm and energy, a turning point even if it didn’t quite seem like it in the months that followed.

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