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Nate Silver at 538: Black voters are NOT to blame for Prop 8

By Griffin · November 12th, 2008 · 7 Comments

Over the last few days, I’ve written about the recent phenomena of gays and liberals placing a wildly disproportional amount of blame on African-Americans for the passage of Proposition 8– especially Atlantic writer Andrew Sullivan, who has simultaneously led the scapegoating crusade while self-righteously condemning it.  Here’s what I wrote about the largely ignored influence of older voters:

California voters age 65 and older outnumbered African-Americans by 50% and contribued 39% more Yes on Prop 8 votes.  If voters age 65 and older had opposed Prop 8 by a slight majority of 52%, it would have failed.

So why isn’t Sullivan emphasizing the rampant homophobia in the elderly community?  Why is he singling out African-Americans as the foremost obstacle to gay rights when voters over 65 actually had 39% more influence in the passing of Prop 8?  Will Sullivan ever condemn nursing homes and Bingo tournaments the way he has repeatedly condemned black churches? …

[I]t is in no way clear that the color of one’s skin is a primary indicator of one’s social attitudes towards gays.  I’m guessing that your frequency of church attendance, your age, and where you live are all much stronger indicators than race.

Today, Nate Silver at 538– the Stephen Hawking of political math– finally weighed in with his take on the influence of black voters on Prop 8′s passage.  Reacting to the latest “Blame the blacks (and Latinos, too!)” article appearing in today’s Sacramento Bee– an article which (surprise, surprise) Andrew Sullivan immediately highlighted and praised– Silver pointed out a number of Prop 8 myths that have gone mostly unchallenged till now (all emphasis mine):

Certainly, the No on 8 folks might have done a better job of outreach to California’s black and Latino communities. But the notion that Prop 8 passed because of the Obama turnout surge is silly. Exit polls suggest that first-time voters — the vast majority of whom were driven to turn out by Obama (he won 83 percent [!] of their votes) — voted against Prop 8 by a 62-38 margin. More experienced voters voted for the measure 56-44, however, providing for its passage.

Now, it’s true that if new voters had voted against Prop 8 at the same rates that they voted for Obama, the measure probably would have failed. But that does not mean that the new voters were harmful on balance — they were helpful on balance. If California’s electorate had been the same as it was in 2004, Prop 8 would have passed by a wider margin.Furthermore, it would be premature to say that new Latino and black voters were responsible for Prop 8′s passage. Latinos aged 18-29 (not strictly the same as ‘new’ voters, but the closest available proxy) voted against Prop 8 by a 59-41 margin. These figures are not available for young black voters, but it would surprise me if their votes weren’t fairly close to the 50-50 mark.

Again– and this can’t be stressed enough– without the surge of new black and Latino voters, “Prop 8 would have passed by a wider margin.”  Silver then goes on to echo my point exactly about the stronger influence of older voters on the passage of Prop 8:

At the end of the day, Prop 8′s passage was more a generational matter than a racial one. If nobody over the age of 65 had voted, Prop 8 would have failed by a point or two.

My math contradicts his just a bit there.  I think voters over 65 would have had to oppose Prop 8 by a very slight majority (52%) to stop it, but I trust Nate Silver’s calculator more than mine.  He’s saying that older voters by themselves provided Prop 8′s winning margin, which is something you cannot say of any ethnic group– black, Latino, or otherwise.  Silver points out that, as older voters get cycled out of the electorate through death and replaced by 18-29-year-olds (of all races), support for marriage equality will naturally increase.

Again, my point is not to start scapegoating and demonizing older voters, as I’m sure that wasn’t the point Silver was making either.  The point is to debunk the myth that African-Americans are solely to blame for Prop 8, somehow moreso than the rest of the California electorate who also voted in favor of it.

Tags: Media · Religion

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7 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Susan // Nov 13, 2008 at 4:33 am

    Do you know how to read? The article says that no data exists for young black voters. Klein takes the data from young Latino voters and assumes that young black voters voted the same way. These groups are not interchangeable.

    53% of Latinos voted for Prop 8.

    70% of black voters voted for it.

    Those numbers aren’t even close, so I’m not buying this argument.

    It’s bad enough to treat people as units instead of individuals, but to substitute one unit for another just to make a point you have no data to prove is not only ridiculous, but racist.

    It’s sad the way even educated white people see all non-white people as some amorphous unit.

  • 2 Griffin // Nov 13, 2008 at 10:27 am

    Silver isn’t interchanging the numbers of young Latino voters for young black ones. He’s saying that if you know the percentage of young voters of all races who voted against Prop 8, and if you know the percentage of young white and young Latino voters who voted against Prop 8 (and we do), then you can approximate the percentage of young black voters who voted against it, which is what Silver did.

    His guess is that they split about even. My math says young black and “other” voters, which made up about 4% of the California electorate, voted against Prop 8 at a rate of about 52%.

    There’s no way to know how much of that 52% is just young black voters– and again, exit polls have notoriously high margins of error, especially once you start getting into these small slices of the electorate– but my guess, like Silver’s, is that they most likely split about even.

    So nobody is substituting one data point for another here, and certainly no one is being “racist.” It’s called mathematics. It’s like looking at a puzzle that is missing one piece. You can guess what the missing piece looks like by observing the shape of the hole.

  • 3 brook // Nov 15, 2008 at 1:56 pm

    Black votes will definitely change the poll result.


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  • 4 Lisa // Dec 18, 2008 at 5:35 am

    Their should be no differences on the basis of colour each and every person should have the right to vote. This will result in a true democratic country.


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  • 5 Man Who Donated $125,000 to Prop 8 is divorcing wife - Politics and Other Controversies - City-Data Forum // Aug 13, 2009 at 9:27 am

    [...] grow so will the fight against gay marriage. They are the ones that stopped it in CA, not money. Nate Silver at 538: Black voters are NOT to blame for Prop 8 | Train Wreck Politics Poll: Black Voters Not to Blame for California

  • 6 Man Who Donated $125,000 to Prop 8 is divorcing wife - Politics and Other Controversies - City-Data Forum // Aug 13, 2009 at 9:39 am

    [...] grow so will the fight against gay marriage. They are the ones that stopped it in CA, not money. Nate Silver at 538: Black voters are NOT to blame for Prop 8 | Train Wreck Politics Poll: Black Voters Not to Blame for California

  • 7 Race Matters – en|Gender // Nov 30, 2012 at 9:36 am

    [...] & Here’s a tidier summation of what Nate Silver was pointing out: [...]

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