Analysis and Improvement, Part 2

by: Adam Bink

Fri Nov 06, 2009 at 17:15

This is a second piece of analysis on what happened in Maine, organizing by the campaign and progressive allies, and where the LGBT movement goes from here. For Part 1, click here.

There is a great deal of soul-searching and strategy questions that have come out in the wake of the loss in Maine on Tuesday. I have some thoughts on them all:

1. The LGBT movement is powerless and handcuffed on marriage referenda. A number of very smart people have argued to me the following: that in California, we had a terrible No On 8 campaign and lost by four points, and in Maine, we had a near-flawless campaign and lost by six. The problem, the argument goes, isn't the execution of campaigns but that we are powerless to win these votes until the elderly, who tend to be far more against marriage equality, die off, and the young open-minded supporters of marriage equality take over.

Not only do I think that's wrong, I think it's a very dangerous assumption. In the first place, I, and many close observers, do believe a better No On 8 campaign could have won the vote. We led by as many as 14 points and 17 points in two different reliable polls as late as September. I don't believe those leads are entirely because of some kind of LGBT-specific version of the Bradley Effect. In the second place, these campaigns aren't hopeless. Although the result was reversed in 2008, don't forget we won a statewide marrage vote in Arizona in 2006- not exactly a bastion of liberal college towns and LGBT people- in fact, considering the retirement population, far from it. A switch of 31,909 votes would have won in Maine. Fixing some of the problems I outlined in my earlier post, many of which are execution issues rather than long-term obstacles, would bring us closer by itself. I look at it the same way I do Obama's campaign- lots of people said an African-American could never win until the demographics change or race relations are improved over a long period of time. In the end, he got far more votes from places many never thought he would. We don't need to wait years to switch 31,909 votes. In the third place, the attitude that the LGBT movement is handcuffed by demographics demobilizes supporters who, now more than ever, need to be mobilized and active.

2. Complaints about tyranny of the majority. Others have rightfully complained that the rights of the minority should never be put to the vote of the majority. I fully agree with this. When I testified last week at the DC Council hearing on our own marriage legislation, I thought one of the best points made was by Councilmember Catania, who pointed out to Bishop Harry Jackson, the local majordomo homophobe, and a black man, that the last time civil rights of a minority was put to a vote in DC was Dec. 21, 1856- the right to vote of African-Americans. He's absolutely right that it shouldn't happen.

My problem with this complaint is that it distracts from the issue, and leads to the same lamenting in the LGBT community that these things are hopeless in the short term because so long as these ballot votes exist, the game is fixed. It discourages participation. Look, that is the world as it should be, and not the world as it is. As Adam Bonin at DailyKos commented to me, the nature of democratic self-governance is such that citizens will always be able to amend their constitutions and laws, for better or for worse. The rules of the game are set and we must play within them.

3. Approaches to showcasing gay couples. There is one very notable difference between the No On 8 campaign and No On 1 that advances our cause. A colleague and friend who was on the ground in Maine and ran a 1995 ballot campaign there, which pertained to restricting the state's ability to enact pro-LGBT measures, said something very interesting to me. In 1995, she said, their campaign- like No On 8's refusal to include gay people in their TV ads- made every effort to hide gay people in their campaign, and that was a big reason why they won. They won, she told me, but they didn't advance the overall opinions and attitudes. Contrast that and the similar approach of the No On 8 campaign with the No On 1 campaign, which had married couples, some with kids, out in front at every turn- in TV ads, on their direct mail, on the website, you name it.

There were two completely different approaches from California and Maine, and both got at least 47% of the vote. But for our movement to advance, it is far better to have No On 1's approach. They proved you don't have to hide gay people like it's 1995. A win in Maine would have been the best thing, but it is a strong second choice to move the ball forward in terms of attitudes.

4. Moving the ball forward in steps. I think there is another victory we are overlooking here. People don't always jump from one end of the spectrum to the other in terms of not being in favor of any "special" rights at all to being supportive of marriage equality. Many people are moved from the anti-equality end to grudgingly (or willingly) being supportive of civil unions, for example. They are the folks you hear saying "just don't call it marriage". It's not a perfect situation, but it's a step forward. I've experienced the same thing on a personal level in terms of family and friends being completely opposed to my sexual orientation, who moved to being "okay, just don't tell your grandparents" to inviting my boyfriend to their home to asking if they can help plan a wedding. This is a process, and not only did we get 260,000 people to vote in favor of full marriage equality, but the conversations we started moved people more than if we didn't. Not only is this important to remember, but it is another point against the "we are handcuffed by old homophobes and the rules of the game, so we're not going to win for a long time" argument.

We didn't win in Maine, but our chances are not handcuffed. Let's remember what could have been done better, remember the take-away lessons from these recent campaigns, and rededicate ourselves immediately.

Adam Bink :: Analysis and Improvement, Part 2

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Complaints about tyranny of the majority. (4.00 / 3)
I always wanted to see an ad featuring a heterosexual couple getting married, then have a bunch of protesters outside  (or perhaps government bureaucrats), who don't even know the couple, come in and declare the marriage illegal.  I think that would make the point.

In fact, I'd make up a series of these ad.  Most of them would feature heterosexual couples that can't get married for some stupid reason or another.  ("They just don't look right together."  "Blonds shouldn't marry brunets.")  But also include some gay and lesbian couples in the mix.  Perhaps an interracial couple as well.

Always end with the same tag line, "shouldn't people who want to get married be able to make up their own mind?  No on 1."  Or something like that.

That's a great idea (0.00 / 0)
If it hasn't been thought of and used before, I wonder why.

[ Parent ]
not exactly the same (4.00 / 1)
but this Irish ad strikes a similar note:

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[ Parent ]
The AP on the schools issue in same-sex marriage referenda (4.00 / 3)
From the AP (all emphasis mine):

After signing up to lead the campaign, political consultants Frank Schubert and Jeff Flint noticed that polls were showing voters tended to not have much of a problem with gay relationships.

With the help of focus groups, surveys and ammunition unwittingly supplied by their opponents, the two soon found a new way to frame the issue, by focusing on education.

It's not the first time gay marriage opponents have played the education card, but not until the California campaign did it became the preferred strategy. That is a departure from elections in recent years when the focus was almost solely on the argument that marriage is a sacred institution between a man and a woman.

So it's important to consider that we actually won on the issue in CA and ME.  The only reason they beat us is because they lied their ass off.

I know that's not entirely comforting, but it does mean that once we overcome the lies and the whole "kids being taught gayness" issue, we win.

It also shows the sad reality that if you repeat a lie enough times, no matter who you put on TV to counter it, for many it becomes truth.

Having said that, this fear of kids being taught about gay issues always ticks me off, especially since apparently it's already being done irrespective of same-sex marriage.  How long do parents expect to cover their kids' eyes from the fact that there are gay people in this world?  It's no better than parents denying their kids information about safe sex.

That's why ,,, (4.00 / 2)
the Cons can never win on the merits .. because all their arguments fall apart ... so they resort to lies .. and outright fraud

[ Parent ]
But .... (0.00 / 0)
don't forget we won a statewide marrage vote in Arizona in 2006- not exactly a bastion of liberal college towns and LGBT people- in fact, considering the retirement population, far from it.

Arizona is one of those places which tend to have a stronger Libertarian streak.

See my comment below for the reason the 2006 initiative failed (4.00 / 1)

[ Parent ]
I don't find #1 convincing in the least. (4.00 / 2)
We were never ahead by 14 and 17 points.

You might as well argue that a ballot question legalizing interracial marriage would've garnered a majority in 1970 in Alabama, just because.

That's not to say that the campaign was wasted. It wasn't. It educated, and rallied, and engaged. That's not to say we shouldn't fight every battle, as hard as we can. We should. That's what we do.

But it is to say that sometimes the reason you lose is because can't win. The numbers just aren't there. There's no shame in that. There's no blame in that--at least not that attaches to you. But it's the way it is.

In fact, I do think we could've won. I think if Stephen King put himself on TV every night for three weeks saying, "I write scary stories, and I hope you all know none of them are true. Well, a lot of people are telling scary stories about question one, and they're not true, either. Blah blah, Vote No on One ..." then we might've won. I think if Obama supported gay marriage, and spent a five or six days in the state, we might've won.

I just think that barring some cultural phenomenon, we didn't have the numbers, and we weren't gonna make them up with GOTV.

Polls (0.00 / 0)
Here's the Field poll showing us up by 17 points.

Here's the PPIC poll showing us up by 14 points.

Both are reliable state-based polling.

I agree that sometimes the numbers just aren't there, but that just wasn't the case in CA. The campaign was winnable.

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[ Parent ]
what worked? (4.00 / 3)
Will you be getting any analysis about what worked best?

Ramping up a program in the few weeks leading up to a vote is not well suited to persuasion. You have already stated that it was a turn out game. Are there inexpensive, but effective media, e.g. cable, radio, or other, that could be used long term for persuasion? If we guess where a few battle grounds will be in a couple years, then use regular ongoing fundraising to pay for ad campaigns that have time to build or mature, including ideas like the one Matson describes, or BillPM also writes to describe things that might be fun. So, the war is not lost; what are the new tactics and strategy so as to not replay the same battle, time and again.

I had the same thought. (4.00 / 2)
Although I don't think we should restrict it to places where we think there might be a vote.

As we know there are GLBT families in every city in every state. I can't imagine it would be that expensive to produce one minute spots in each one with a local family telling their stories. Airing them would get expensive, but over the long term, I'm sure you could air them at cheap times.  I would concentrate on programs that seniors watch.

Instead of reacting in one place at the last minute, if we could change minds across the country, it might really help the next time one of these comes up.

[ Parent ]
Arizona is not a good example (4.00 / 3)
The only reason that the Arizona initiative failed in 2006 was because the conservatives who drafted it went too far. The language they drafted would have impacted a lot of heterosexual couples as well as homosexual ones. It's not a good example of a victory for gay rights.

That's true (4.00 / 1)
But there was an excellent campaign run to educate folks on marriage equality by Sinema.

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[ Parent ]
Strategy for moving forward? (4.00 / 1)
The No on 1 ads showcasing same-sex couples and families definitely changed some hearts & minds, and in that sense this campaign moved things forward.  I will question the cost of that, and whether marriage equality was the best vehicle to use at this particular time and place.  The problem with this type of legislation in Maine is that it's always subject to a peoples' veto, so even with the stunning success in the Legislature, we knew what was coming.

Now, the GLBT advocacy community spent more than $4 million to gain an impressive 260,000 votes in Maine. Local TV stations made lots of money.  But the pushback to the equal marriage campaign has increased the scrutiny on school-based programs for GLBTQ kids, and I doubt they'll get much support in our Legislature.  Maine is in a huge budget deficit and all kinds of programs are being cut.  I doubt any legislator, or School Board member, is going to speak up for gay-straight alliances or civil rights teams. Support organizations for GLBT youth across the state have lost their funding and are struggling. Services and programs related to HIV/AIDS are also on the chopping block in Maine.

I know it's not a zero-sum game, and that there wouldn't necessarily be any more funding for these programs even if this election hadn't been waged. But there is going to be a period of time when the anti-gay forces and fundamentalists will feel emboldened, and progress may be stymied for awhile.  I believe some of these efforts will actually lose ground in the short run.

I'm sorry that this comment isn't very focused.  I'm a strong supporter of GLBT rights and have volunteered on several campaigns here in Maine.  I also have a longstanding professional connection to gay rights, especially focused on young people. But I have to admit that my heart sank a little bit last winter when I realized that this effort for marriage equality was going forward, mainly because I knew it would take massive resources and these campaigns always unleash such hateful responses.

I'm not sure what the next strategy should be, but spending millions of dollars on TV ads in a tiny state like Maine just doesn't seem that effective.  I decided to forego my final contribution to No on 1 last week and gave it to my city's gay youth support group instead.  That organization's entire budget for a year would probably buy a couple of days' worth of ads.

I know any political campaign is a gamble and if this one had succeeded, I'd still have some questions about costs/strategies but probably feel it was worth it.  Just hope that whatever the next move is, all of the ramifications are examined beforehand, and that the decisions are made at the local level.  

If it's any consolation... (0.00 / 0)
I'll bet there's a fairly low correlation between rampant homophobia and healthy lifestyle choices. The latter very rarely seem to be associated with ignorance and closed-mindedness, whereas prejudice of all kinds quite often is.

So if it really is just a matter of waiting around for a few of the worst curmudgeons to die off, that might not actually mean waiting all that long. I'm just sayin'...

Interesting take (4.00 / 4)
the field flaws jump out the most to me. I was under the impression we had a good field program, but clearly that wasn't the case. Asking for money as part of the field script with less than two months to go is am awful idea.

But we learned some lessons. I think No on 1 was a real model beyond that.

I'd be interested in hearing more about your take on the schools issue. I think that's what killed us with undecideds more than anything else. Obviously it's a lie, but we need a better response. No on 8 didn't have a good response to anything, but I think No on 1 won the acceptance of gay families battle. Now we need to find out how to counter their school framing.  

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"Look, that is the world as it should be, and not the world as it is." (4.00 / 1)
A man has to come to terms with life as it is.
             Life as it is.
             I have lived for over forty years, and I've seen...
             life as it is.
             cruelty beyond belief.
             I've heard all the voices of God's noblest creature.
             Moans from bundles of filth in the street.
             I've been a soldier and a slave.
             I've seen my comrades fall in battle...
             or die more slowly under the lash in Africa.
             I've held them at the last moment.
             These were men who saw life as it is.
             Yet they died despairing.
             No glory, no brave last words.
             Only their eyes, filled with confusion...
             questioning why.
             I do not think they were asking why they were dying...
             but why they had ever lived.
             When life itself seems lunatic, who knows where madness lies?
             Perhaps to be too practical is madness.
             To surrender dreams, this may be madness.
             To seek treasure where there is only trash...
             too much sanity may be madness!
             And maddest of all...
             to see life as it is and not as it should be!

Sry, Adam, but I can never resist the temptation to quote from my favorite musical whenever there is such an obvious analogy!

seconding the request for a "let's look at what works" post (4.00 / 1)
i'm all for monday morning quarterbacking, but hello: why am i the first person on this thread to say: what about WA? and here in MI, Kalamazoo? success, people, success we can study. i'm not really up on all the details of those campaigns, but it seems to me they are the best examples and places to look at contrasts.

sorry to say but i do sort of think there's a generational component to winning. i can't see pro equality initiatives losing in ~20 years. that's just me, and anyway it doesn't really matter. in most places where we have any chance at all, it hovers around the 50-60% pro equality, when polled correctly. seems to me (like almost always) the question is turnout, GOTV efforts. progressives lack the huge slush of money the other side usually enjoys, so we tend to struggle with proper GOTV. i know tv ads matter, but youth turnout is the way to go, imho. at the state and muni level, if you can get high youth turnout, you can get the good stuff passed. perhaps joining forces with various youth issue campaigns is one thing that could be done.  

Moving the ball forward in steps (4.00 / 2)
One of the advantages conservatives have over progressives is that they have fully embraced this point, while many progressives have not. If they have 1 vote, they seek a second one. If we have 49%, we give up.

If people are not on your side on an issue, you need to find a way to persuade them, not throw up your hands and say we don't have the support.

You never have the votes until you do.  

Obviously, you have to distinguish what can be achieved now versus what is possible later, and that requires trade offs. But real change comes from taking a longer term view. Sometimes that means loosing in the right way. Sometimes it means how you win matters, not just whether you win.  

It's maddening when people's fundamental rights are denied because of lies.  Adam's doing a great job of channeling that frustration in an extremely productive fashion.

Politics is the art of the possible, but that means you have to think about changing what is possible, not that you have to accept it in perpetuity.


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