Determining the percentage of the LGBT population has long been a difficult task for demographers. Several methodologies have yielded widely varying results from between 2% and 13% of the overall population. However, despite these wide variations, for the purposes of determining the LGBT percentage of future electorates, key pieces of data make it clear that the self-identified LGBT population is already 4% of the electorate (2004 and 2008 exit polls both confirm this), and will rise to at least 6% by 2028 at the latest. Further, it is possible that the electorate could become 7% self-identified LGBT at some point in the 2030's. Given the widely differing partisan tendencies of the LGBT and non-LGBT population, this 2-3% increase represents a not insignificant impact on national election results.
It is clear that the self-identified LGBT population is increasing, both as an overall percentage of the population and the overall percentage of the electorate. First, in terms of the overall population, Joseph Fried's 2008 analysis of the General Social Survey confirms that, over the past twenty years, an increasing percentage of men indicate they have recently had same-sex relationships. He also presents this data in terms of partisan affiliation:
If applied across both genders, this chart matches up closely with the percentage of self-identified LGBT population in the 2004 and 2008 exit polls (4% overall, breaking roughly 3-1 Democratic). The increase found in this research is highly likely due to changing societal views of homosexual relationships, rather than to an actual increase in the number of people with homosexual feelings. Gallup has found that, since the early 1990's, the percentage of Americans who view homosexuality as "an acceptable lifestyle," rose from 38% in 1992 to 57% in 2008. This shift has either resulted in--or been caused by--an increasing number of people to acting upon, and then admitting to have acted upon, homosexual feelings. The number of people with homosexual feelings has, in all likelihood, not increased.
The rise in homosexuality identified by Fried will continue in the future, due to the age distribution of the self-identified LGBT population. The Gay and Lesbian Census conducted by Syracuse University in 2001 found that the LGBT population skews much younger than the voting population as a whole:
LGBT population by age, 2001 (2008 percentage of electorate in parenthesis) 18-24: 16% (10%)
25-34: 32% (17%)
35-44: 32% (20%)
45-54: 15% (19%)
55-64: 4% (18%)
65+: 1% (16%)
In future elections, assuming that the percentage of self-identified LGBTs between the age of 18-44 does not change, the self-identified LGBT percentage of the electorate will inevitably rise as a result of this age distribution. Over time, the currently young and out population will age, thus making the 45+ demographic just as self-identified LGBT as the under-45 demographic was in 2001. This will result in the electorate as a whole becoming more self-identified LGBT.
More in the extended entry, including the specific projections.
Specifically, this means that 5% of the electorate will self-identify as LGBT by 2016 at the latest, and that 6% of the electorate will self-identify as LGBT by 2028 at the latest. It is possible, though not a certainty, that this number will rise to 7% in the 2030's, even as early as 2032. Further, if the self-identified LGBT percentage of the population under the age of 45 increases rather than remains stagnant, then the 7% figure will definitely be reached in 2032, and even higher percentages might occur in the future.
In terms of political outcomes, a 2-3% increase in the percentage of the electorate that self-identifies as LGBT would be significant. In 2004, LGBT voters were 30 percentage points more Democratic than non-LGBT voters, and in 2008 the margin was 17 percentage points. With such margins, a 2-3% increase in the LGBT share of the electorate improves the overall Democratic margin by 0.7% to 1.8%.
Now, such a shift may not seem large. However, given that Republicans already find themselves in a big electoral hole, and given the extremely negative long-term trends they face in terms of both religious and racial / ethnic self-identification within the electorate, losing another 0.7%-1.8% in their national margin over the next 23 years cannot be welcome news.
Starting with Goldwater, but first achieving success with Nixon, Republicans have spent forty years trying to win elections by riding majority cultural demographic resentment (whites, Chrstians, native-born citizens, straights) toward minority cultural demographics (non-whites, non-Christians, immigrants, LGBT, "liberal elites"). The problem with this strategy is that all of the demographics they were attacking were increasing as a percentage of the electorate. In just a few more electoral cycles, all of the demographics Republicans and conservatives have attacked will, combined, become a majority of the electorate. Given that the "culture wars" have turned these demographics against Republicans by the tune of 3-1 margins, these trends put Republicans in an almost insurmountable electorate hole. By 2028, the electorate will be 9% less white, 6% less Christian, and 2% more LGBT. At current partisan tendencies, such trends are unsustainable for Republicans. Democrats would only have to win about 25% of the straight, white Christian population in order to reach 50%+1 nationally. Democrats already do about that well among white evangelicals, much less all white Christians.
Probably the only way Republicans can prevent from falling into a generational abyss is to just give up completely on the culture wars. I don't know how they can get away with that, given their base voters, but given the demographic trends outlined so far in this series, it is the only way forward I can imagine.