Nearly 77 percent of LGBT participants in an unscientific straw poll the Washington Blade conducted during last month’s Capital Pride street festival said they approve of the job President Barack Obama is doing as president.
The president’s 76.9 percent approval rating among the LGBT respondents — most of whom said they live in D.C., Maryland or Virginia — far exceeds the 46 percent approval rating he received from American voters nationwide who participated in a Gallup Poll in June.
Just over 17 percent of the 519 LGBT people who responded to the Blade straw poll said they disapprove of the president’s job performance, and about 6 percent said they had no opinion.
In a separate question on the Blade straw poll, about 51 percent of LGBT respondents said they approve of the job Obama is doing in “addressing LGBT-related issues.” On the matter, about 36 percent said they disapprove and about 13 percent said they had no opinion.
A third question asking respondents to grade Obama “on his handling of LGBT issues” showed a range of opinions. About 8 percent of the straw poll’s LGBT respondents gave Obama an “A” grade, whereas 37.7 percent gave him a “B,” 37.5 percent gave him a “C,” about 13 percent gave him a “D,” and about 2 percent gave him an “F.” The remaining respondents had no opinion.
The Blade straw poll follows a year in which the president has faced sharp criticism from some LGBT activists who say he hasn’t been forceful enough in pushing for LGBT-related bills in Congress, including legislation to repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”
At the time of his election in November 2008, most LGBT activists agreed that Obama was about to become the nation’s most LGBT-supportive president. As a candidate, Obama said he supported civil unions rather than same-sex marriage, but expressed strong support on virtually all other LGBT issues.
Among other things, he called for repealing “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” and the Defense of Marriage Act, a measure passed by Congress in 1996 that federally defines marriage as the union of one man and one woman. The act bars married same-sex couples joined in states that allow same-sex marriage from receiving any of the federal rights or benefits of marriage that wedded opposite-sex couples receive.
The president has continued to speak in favor of repealing “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” and DOMA, has appointed a record number of high-level openly LGBT officials throughout the federal government, and has hosted LGBT events at the White House.
His LGBT supporters say the criticism is unfair. They note that the Obama administration has taken extensive action on the LGBT front and should not be held responsible for inaction by Congress, which has stalled in the approval of most LGBT-related bills.
That the Blade straw poll shows the president with an overall 76.9 percent approval rating among LGBT respondents suggests large numbers of LGBT people continue to have confidence in Obama while having concerns about his handling of at least some LGBT-related issues.
“I think the overall view is that we still like him,” said Peter Rosenstein, a gay Democratic activist.
“But I think it shows there’s a feeling it would be very nice if he spoke out on our issues in the same forceful way he did about health care to the Congress,” Rosenstein said. “There’s a frustration that he is not speaking out forcefully enough on ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ and on [the Employment Non-Discrimination Act] and our community wants to see more action.”
Andrew Tobias, who’s gay and serves as treasurer of the Democratic National Committee, said he understands the frustration of some of the Blade poll respondents who are disappointed that more LGBT-related advances have not materialized.
“But we also need to recognize that in less than two years, with so much else on his plate, Obama’s made a terrific start, and a night-and-day difference over where we were or where we would have been with [Republican presidential candidate John] McCain.”
Tobias said the Blade poll results show an overwhelming majority gave the president a favorable rating and a passing grade.
“If you had asked people to rate the Republicans, virtually 100 percent would have flunked them outright,” he said.
But Clarke Cooper, executive director of the gay partisan group Log Cabin Republicans, said the Blade poll indicates that LGBT voters are questioning the president’s actions on LGBT issues, especially the administration’s decision to oppose in court a Log Cabin lawsuit seeking to overturn the ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ law.
“It is presumptuous of President Obama and the DNC to assume LGBT voters will march in blind lock-step support of the president,” Cooper said.
Organizers of the Capital Pride festival, the D.C. area’s annual LGBT Pride event, estimated about 200,000 people turned out for the event, which was held June 13 along Pennsylvania Avenue near the U.S. Capitol.
The Blade staff invited festival attendees to participate in the straw poll as they walked past the Blade’s booth. Participation included filling out a one-page, confidential questionnaire and placing the completed questionnaire in a closed ballot box.
Of the 559 respondents, about 59 percent identified as gay, about 26 percent as lesbian, about 5 percent as bisexual, about 1 percent as transgender, and about 3 percent as queer. The remaining 6 percent identified as straight.
The Blade isolated the respondents identifying as straight from its calculation of the results so that a more accurate presentation of the straw poll’s LGBT sample could be obtained.
A separate calculation of the poll’s 36 straight respondents, showed that about 72 percent approved of the job the president is doing, while about 22 percent disapproved and about 5 percent had no opinion. On the question of how the president was doing on LGBT-related issues, about 34 percent of the straight respondents expressed approval, while some 25 percent expressed disapproval and 40 percent had no opinion.
Among all straw poll respondents, about 82 percent identified themselves as white, about 10 percent as black, 5 percent as Latino, about 3 percent as Asian/Pacific Islander, and another 3 percent as other.
Similar to nationwide public opinion polls such as the Gallup Poll, black respondents to the Blade poll gave a higher approval rating to the president than white respondents.
On the Blade poll’s question on whether respondents approve or disapprove of how Obama is doing as president, nearly 91 percent of the black LGBT respondents said they approve compared to less than 2 percent who said they disapprove. The remaining 7 percent of black LGBT respondents had no opinion.
On the same question, more than 77 percent of white LGBT respondents said they approve of the job the president is doing compared to about 18 percent who said they disapproved, while about 4 percent had no opinion.
The difference between black and white respondents narrowed on the question of how the president is doing on LGBT-related issues. About 60 percent of black respondents said they approved of the president’s handling of LGBT issues, while about 19 percent said they disapproved and some 21 percent had no opinion on the question.
Among white respondents, nearly 50 percent said they approved of President Obama’s handling of LGBT-related issues and about 35 percent said they disapproved, while about 15 percent said they had no opinion.
Gallup Poll results from a June survey shows 46 percent of American voters approve of Obama’s job performance. A Rasmussen Poll also conducted in July shows that just 27 percent of the respondents “strongly approve” of the overall job the president is doing compared to 43 percent who “strongly disapprove.”
High unemployment rates and the Gulf of Mexico oil disaster were among the issues that the Gallup and Rasmussen polls indicated were factors in respondents saying they disapprove of the job the president is doing.
Dan Pinello, who’s gay and a political science professor at the City University of New York, said the overall support the Blade straw poll found for Obama’s job performance is consistent with national exit polls of LGBT voters conducted by the news media for presidential elections.
He noted that the exit polls have consistently shown that LGBT voters support the Democratic presidential candidate at about 75 percent.
Pinello said he was unsurprised over the Blade poll finding that the Obama approval rating drops to about 50 percent on the question of how the president is handling LGBT-related issues. He noted that since the sample consists of self-identified LGBT people at a Pride event in Washington, the respondents most likely are “skewed” toward more politically aware people.
“But in the minds of many in our community, Barack Obama has not lived up to his campaign promises,” Pinello said. “Plus, Barack Obama has had an ambitious political agenda, much of which he’s accomplished. He got the health reform bill through Congress. He got the stimulus package passed. He got financial reform passed. Lots of major, consequential, historic legislation has passed in the last year and a half. And I think a lot of gay people, especially in the nation’s capital who are very attuned to these issues, are looking at that and saying, ‘Why not us?’”