Class vs. Sexuality: The Proposition 8 Vote

Last week, John Russo provided an important look at voting patterns amongst Ohio’s working class and rightly concluded that “the older, predominately white, industrial working class continues to be a major influence on voting patterns but is increasingly being offset by a new working class composed of younger, more diverse, and better educated voters,” and that “Race may matter less than it did in the past, but the combination of race and class still matters.”

With John’s insights about the intersections of race and class in mind, we looked at some of the demographics behind that Other vote, much in the national news, that took  place on election day-California’s Proposition 8, the measure that not only denies Gay and Lesbian residents the right to marry, but actually rescinds these same rights granted by an earlier court decision.

The measure was approved by 52 percent of voters and has sparked not only visible protests across the nation but animosity between the Gay community and the Black and Hispanic communities, which endorsed the ban. Exit polls indicated that 70 percent of black voters supported Proposition 8, while 53 percent of Latinos and 49 percent of whites and Asian Americans voted for the measure.

Of course, pinning the passage of the ban on any one group is both destructive and inaccurate. African Americans comprised only about 10 percent of the total vote in California. The reductive analyses of the vote as a black/white issue neglect the role of class and education in the passage of Proposition 8, a relationship that can be mapped by looking at the Los Angeles Times voter demographics feature.

A quick scroll over the map reveals the possible role that class and, quite possibly the current economic conditions, might have played in the vote. For example, a whopping 71.5 percent of voters in Colusa County voted in favor of Proposition 8. In that same county median income is reported as less than $45,000 and the region saw more than 20 foreclosures per 1,000 homes-the county’s population is more than 25 percent Hispanic.

County employment data reports that 24 percent of residents are employed in the agricultural sector and the county unemployment rate is forecast at 12.2 percent-almost 58 percent of the vote went to McCain. In Lake County, 58.3 percent voted for Obama and 52.6 percent voted yes on Proposition 8. County median income there is also less than $45,000, its population is more than 75 percent white, with less than 10 percent holding a bachelor’s degree.

Although these data may tell only part of the story, they do seem to suggest a relationship between economic conditions and voting patterns on social issues, and quite possibly a disturbing trend. David Brooks notes, for instance, that the worsening recession might deepen social rifts along the lines of race, class, and gender:

… recessions are about more than material deprivation. They’re also about fear and diminished expectations. The cultural consequences of recessions are rarely uplifting.

The economic slowdown of the 1880s and 1890s produced a surge of agrarianpopulism and nativism, with particular hostility directed toward Catholics, Jews and blacks. The Great Depression was not only a time of F.D.R.’s optimism and escapist movies, it was also a time of apocalyptic forebodings and collectivist movements that crushed individual rights.

For Brooks, the lessons of history suggest that the current and pending economic downturns might produce dissatisfaction and alienation that could translate into anti-progressive political actions and outcomes aimed at various groups. And while the recession will likely not produce the same ire aimed at the same targets as previous downturns, new groups, might become targets; such as Gays and Lesbians, and, judging from the sentiments on Capitol Hill and local media this week, unions.

So while mainstream and Gay and Lesbian media outlets focus attention on the racial dimension (arguably the more sensational story) of the passage of Proposition 8, the economic and class dimensions of the vote suggest a more complex stratification of interests, attitudes and beliefs.

Reporting about this stratification will be important for journalists in coming weeks and months. This type of reporting will allow audiences to understand complex issues in more than just polarizing ways. It’s not a simple black versus white story.

Tim Francisco & Alyssa Lenhoff

This entry was posted in Class at the Intersections, Working-class politics and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

7 Responses to Class vs. Sexuality: The Proposition 8 Vote

  1. Liberal Sista says:

    Here is a great chess move. According to DADI, 69% of births among Black women were to unwed mothers. Black women are the least likely to be married (more than any other women of any different ethnicity). Call the Black churches out on their hypocrisy. The older pre-Civil Rights generation do not believe that Gay-Marriage is a civil rights issue, so don’t make it one! It’s a losing battle! Instead create this argument, “Why are so many African-Americans concerned about respecting the institution of marriage, when so many children in Black communities are being born out of wedlock?” This would be a great debate to take on with Black pastors. A widely publicized debate on BET with pastors {like Creflo A. Dollar and TD Jakes}, would push the issue among many young voters in HBCUs (historically Black Colleges and Universities). Target the Black Gay Elite in Atlanta, Georgia to pull further resources. They are well connected to many other Black organizations and learning institutions. I hate to admit this, but the failure of Prop 8 did not lie with the Mormans or religious Blacks. The failure lied with the upper-middle class gay elite who refused to form allies with the Black and Hispanic communities. The Morman churches CAME PREPARED!


  2. Liberal Sista says:

    I found the results of Prop 8 to be morbidly disgusting! Although I am a Black heterosexual female, nevertheless I have always supported gay marriages, same-sex adoptions, as well as upholding the Supreme Court decision of Roe V Wade. Unfortunately, Christianity has a played a vital role in many Black communities. Many African Americans are physically liberal, but socially conservative. What went wrong with Prop 8 and the Black vote? A.S.S.U.M.P.T.I.O.N and BAD MARKETING! There is a smaller percentage of Blacks living in California than any other ethnicity group. There are more faith-based televised sermons advertised on BET, than MTV or VH1. There were no grassroots campaign pushing the opposition agenda of Prop 8 in Black and Hispanic urban/suburban areas. Kanye West, a rapper who has openly expressed his support for gay marriages would have been a great spokesperson for the Black community. Politics is a game of chess, and Prop 8 is just one of the 16 pieces! The Mormans understood their religious constituents. If you want to forward a faith based agenda among minorities, then target the Black churches. President Bush did this during his Presidential campaign. Trying to push Prop 8 right after the Presidential victory of President Obama {without gaining a favorable amount of attention to this subject from Blacks and Hispanics} was infantile. You want Prop 8 eradicated? Then reach out to the Black community. It’s NEVER too late! I still support same sex marriages.


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  4. Two recent pieces about the Public Policy Institute of California’s analysis of the Prop 8 results:

    Interesting findings. The contribution of conservative religious beliefs is confirmed (a no-brainer, really), as is the effect of being a registered Republican (much stronger than being religiously conservative).

    Still, the findings about race, income, and education leave me with the same questions. If the nexus is clear (and I don’t say that it is), shouldn’t rich, white, educated people have been big supporters of a No on 8 vote?

    The PPIC numbers don’t seem to suggest that: Of white voters who voted on Prop 8, 50% voted yes (and, thus, against gay marriage); of college graduates who voted on Prop 8, 43% voted yes; of those Prop 8 voters identified as belonging to “higher income households,” 45% voted in favor of Prop 8.

    In other words, a white OR educated OR “high income” voter had a TENDENCY to oppose Prop 8, but it wasn’t exactly a landslide.

    Moreover, in reports like these that offer only simple percentages, it isn’t possible to know what factors were or weren’t statistically significant in determining a particular outcome nor what role is played by combinations of factors.

    In other words, we still don’t necessarily know how someone unemployed but well educated voted, or a middle-class black homeowner, or a wealthy Latino Baptist.

    I would certainly tend to agree that “economic downturns might produce dissatisfaction and alienation that could translate into anti-progressive political actions,” though I’m convinced the November 2008 elections were much too early to try to measure any such effect.

    Similarly, I would agree that “economic and class dimensions of the vote suggest … more complex stratification[s]” and that the connection between “economic conditions and voting patterns on social issues” is intriguing. What I’m still not clear on is the how.

    Meanwhile, the way in which you juxtapose income and housing-foreclosure data for Colusa County with the county’s overwhelming support for Prop 8 is a fairly obvious attempt to suggest a connection between the two pieces of data. Perhaps I’ve overstated it by implying that you suggest that “low income equals homophobia,” but you do pretty much come right out and say that “median income under 45K and mortgage problems equals opposition to gay marriage.”

    Okay, so median income data isn’t especially helpful w/o knowing the size of the household – nationally, the median income for two-person households is just under 40K—but I’d still be willing to be convinced either way. If it’s true, why is it true? If it isn’t true—in light of the relatively small difference between “high income” (45%) and “not high income” (55%) voters who supported Prop 8 (as reported by PPIC), and given that these figures are nearly identical to the California state statistics (52% overall voted for Prop 8 and against gay marriage; 48% voted against Prop 8 and in favor of gay marriage)—why does the connection continue to be implied?


  5. T. Francisco says:

    Wendell: Thanks for the great post. I would point out, however, that our post does implicate mainstream media as well as GLBT: “while mainstream and Gay and Lesbian media outlets focus attention…” and nowhere do we categorize the data we provide according to class–nor do we provide an anlysis that argues that “low income” equals homophobia–nor do we suggest that 45k is low income, or label anyone racist. We are simply suggesting that that the story is more complex than that and that all media should resist easy frames. So really we are in agreement that it “It isn’t just a black and white issue, but it’s also not just a working-class/poverty-class vs. middle-class issue either.” One of the other points is that, historically, in depressions and recessions, backlashes have occured against marginal groups and that this backlash has come from many different stratifications of race, class, etc.


  6. There’s something just slightly snotty about blaming “gay and lesbian media outlets” for “focusing attention on the racial dimension” — it simply isn’t t true that the glbt have tried to bring that issue to the fore more than have mainstream media outlets. Are the victims being blamed once again?

    The overwhelming issue in the Prop 8 loss was conservative religious beliefs, and the millions poured into the Yes on 8 campaign by the Mormons and by wealthy conservatives was more than effective in bringing the news regarding the “dangers” of Prop 8 to (so to speak) to the masses. What preachers did from their pulpits and right-wing groups did with direct-mail finished the job.

    What the Francisco/Lenhoff piece fails to mention is what writers about class/race always fail to mention: that there are queer people of color; working-class queers; and queer, working class people. It isn’t just a black and white issue, but it’s also not just a working-class/poverty-class vs. middle-class issue either.

    I’d be very interested, by the way, in understanding the enormous leap in this analysis: Assuming the statistics for Colusa County are accurate, how does low income (though a median income of $45k isn’t exactly low) and high home foreclosures (they had to own homes in the first place if they were foreclosed upon) translate into homophobia?

    The effort here is so focused on denying the influence of black churches and media on the Prop 8 result and scolding lgbt media for being racist that the authors miss major points: the influence of evangelical/conservative churches in general and the significant support for Prop 8 among wealthy and very wealthy donors.


  7. Aspasia says:

    — In the wake of the passage of Proposition 8 in California, Lambda Legal Executive Director Kevin Cathcart issued the following statement:
    “As an organization that has fought for so many years for marriage equality — and continues to do so — we join with many others in expressing our disappointment and outrage at the recent passage of Proposition 8 in California. We are also deeply disturbed at the racial scapegoating and blaming in which some members of the LGBT community, allies and media have engaged. The focus on data from exit polls that are misleading or simply wrong misses the important point: A bare majority of voters approved Prop. 8 including voters from every racial and socioeconomic group and in every region of the state. Blaming African American or any people of color voters is foolish.

    Need I say more. Prop. 8 found support among 81 percent of white evangelicals, 65 percent of white Protestants, 64 percent of Catholics and 84 percent of weekly worshipers. Don’t trust exit polls. I think they are pitting one group against the other. African-Americans are less than 7% of the state population, do the math. Many more Whites voted and they put this over, not Blacks. What are the total numbers of each group that voted. Someone dug into the data and found that we’re just now learning is that the exit poll was based on less than 2,300 people. If you take into account that blacks in California only make up about 6.2%, we get roughly 224 blacks who were polled. 224 blacks to blame an entire race! The truth is, I have heard that Prop 8 passed because of Republican support. 82% of Republicans admitted to supporting the proposition.


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