AEI Young Bloggers: Why Young Voters Won’t Tip the Gay Marriage Debate Anytime Soon


Lazar Berman is the American Enterprise Institute’s program manager for Foreign and Defense Policy studies. Daniel Berman has written for and Chatham House on electoral politics, and is currently a graduate student at the London School of Economics:

The landslide passage of Amendment One in North Carolina, which defines marriage as between one man and one woman, should give some pause to those who believe that young voters will be enough to tilt the balance in the near future in favor of gay marriage.

Conventional wisdom holds that support for gay marriage is tied to demographic change, and there is some truth to this. On average, opposition among voters falls with age. However, this does not mean that majority support for the legalization of same-sex marriage is inevitable. There is a difference between opposing something less stridently and actually supporting it, and all the evidence available from both the results in last Tuesday’s vote on Amendment One in North Carolina and Public Policy Polling’s final poll before the vote show that voters under 30 opposed the amendment only marginally.

... If 18- to 30-year-old voters did in fact split almost evenly on Amendment One, this casts some doubt on the theory that gay marriage will ride to acceptance due to overwhelmingly supportive young voters. While young voters do seem more supportive of gay marriage, and support increases the younger the demographic in question, the operative word is supportive. Only moderately in favor of gay marriage themselves, young North Carolinians were in no position to outvote their older neighbors.

In fact, even if nobody over age 45 had voted Tuesday, the amendment still would have passed by around 8 percentage points, according to the adjusted data above.

Therefore, any strategy of waiting for demographics to realize the maximalist position of gay marriage advocates across the country looks to be, at the very least, a lengthy endeavor. States on the margins, like California and Washington, where initial bans commanded marginal majorities, might support gay marriage in the near future. But on a wider scale, movement on the issue, though real, is likely to be far too slow to bring about dramatic change nationally anytime soon.

In fact, it is quite possible that gay marriage will lose traction this November. Both Maryland and Minnesota have referenda on the ballot, and both share enough demographic similarities with North Carolina to make it likely that they will also ban gay marriage. Maryland has a large number of African-Americans who, while unlikely to turn on President Obama because of his embrace of gay marriage, are equally unlikely to accept his views on the issue. Minnesota has one of the most conservative pools of voters between the ages of 30-44 in the nation—they have even voted more Republican than their elders in recent decades. -- AEI's