Why Maine voters repealed a gay
marriage law Tuesday when polling favored backers continues to baffle
analysts. Several theories have been offered.
Gay marriage proponents have been hit
hard by the defeat, which came on the first anniversary of another
trouncing: California's voter-approved gay marriage ban, Proposition
8. In both fights, gay activists hoped a liberal electorate would
favor gay marriage rights.
The long-held notion of a “Bradley
effect” for gay marriage, where people are reluctant to share their
true feelings on a social issue, is the most frequently cited reason
for why pollsters got it wrong.
By Thursday, conservative monthly The
American Spectator was among the many discussing the possibility.
a blog post titled Gay
Marriage “Bradley Effect,” W. James Angle, III argued
that the phenomenon “cuts both ways.”
“It suggests that overall public
opposition to same-sex marriage may be understated in national polls,
raising questions of how much the recent shifts reflect rising
support or just the public's sense of what the socially acceptable
“On the other hand, if [opposition to
gay marriage] is now something people are afraid to say to strangers,
that doesn't bode well for traditional marriage's long-term
prospects. It suggests that the bandwagon effect could work, putting
opposition to same-sex marriage in the closet or reducing it to the
opinion that dare not speak its name,” he said.
Statistician Nate Silver, who gave
Question 1 a 70% chance of failing, agreed that polling could be
skewed by a “Bradley effect,” but he also said there could a
number of other reasons, including the geography of a state.
“The results showed a very strong
urban-rural divide, with the initiative being rejected by a margin of
about 2:1 in Portland but racking up big margins in smaller towns and
rural areas, especially in the north of the state,” he
said in a blog post at fivethirtyeight.com.
Results from Proposition 8 last year
were similar, with coastal city dwellers rejecting the gay marriage
ban, while inland rural folks voted overwhelmingly in favor of
Gay activists in California are already
tackling this theory. Meet
in the Middle 4 Equality was a gay marriage rally held in rural
Fresno in May. Organizer Robin McGehee likened the rally to moving
the fight “behind enemy lines.” A strategy activists will
inevitably need to repeat if Proposition 8 is to be repealed.
And if Maine stages a second gay marriage referendum.