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Did Prop 8 Voters Know What They Were Voting For?

A new study shows that confusion in the voting booth may have skewed results.


Supporters of same-sex marriage carry signs during a march and rally on Hollywood Boulevard after the California Supreme Court upheld Proposition 8. (Kevork Djansezian / Getty Images)

In 2008, California voters passed Prop 8—
the controversial measure where "no" meant "yes" and "yes" meant "no”—which had the effect of prohibiting gay marriage. But ever since, researchers have been trying to figure out if confusion may have thrown off some voters, and whether the final split, 52 to 48 percent, may not be the most accurate measure of how the Golden State thinks about the controversial idea.

A report released today by the LGBT Mentoring Project (an admittedly not-unbiased group) explores why the measure passed, by how much, and at whose hands. In a video, author David Fleischer, who heads the group, highlighted some of the most important findings of his study. While many people initially thought that African-American voters were one demographic that might sway the final outcome, “No on 8” was behind from the start with that group, said Fleischer.

The measure passed by fewer than 600,000 votes, the majority of which the study says were cast by parents who had children under the age of 18 living at home. Polling before the vote showed that in the weeks leading up to the election, many of those voters changed their stance. White Democrats, voters who live in the Greater Bay Area, and voters who were registered as independents are suspected of doing the same.

One complication of the voting process was wrong-way voting, according to the study. Many people were confused by what a vote for “yes” or “no” meant—voting “yes” supported passing the proposition, and thereby a ban on same-sex marriage, while voting “no” was a vote to strike down the measure and allow gay couples to marry.

It’s an interesting look back and could offer a valuable lesson for the next time voters are asked to approve or shoot down gay marriage. However, the discovery of the wrong-way voting problem may not benefit the “No on 8” (yes on gay marriage) groups, since many of the mistakes actually benefited their cause. When accounted for, the number of people who meant to vote against gay marriage but got confused and voted for it would put the “No on 8” cause even further behind in a future vote on the matter, Fleischer said in the video. He said that in a future election, gay-marriage proponents would start out a million votes behind.

Other recent election measures have brought voter error into the spotlight. The recent primaryvictory of Alvin Greene  in South Carolina had people wondering whether there had been some sort of fraud or foul play, or whether simply having one’s name first on the ballot can be enough to cause a voting upset.

In both cases, whether caused by uninformed or just confused voting, the outcomes were surprising and have left many voters still wondering what just happened and, more important, what happens next?

8/9/10: Coming to the Court: Kagan, Gay Marriage, More; Misplaced Mosque: Ground Zero; Newsweek: Torch Passed; Lessons from Henry Luce; Duvall's Death Wish and More; Conservative Case for Gay Marriage

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