Consider this scenario: If every LGBT voter in D.C. decided not to participate in the 2016 presidential election, would the political party winning the District’s three electoral votes be different?
Nope. The Democratic nominee would still handily win with an overwhelming percentage of the local vote.
The election outcome would also remain the same in New York, California, Massachusetts and other predictably “true-blue” states. In fact, the participation of LGBT voters would matter even less in those locales. Due to a much lower percentage “gay vote” when compared to D.C.’s extraordinarily unusual and highest-in-the-nation 10 percent population share, the impact would be negligible.
Other than the value of gay wealthy-donor campaign cash and the efforts of a small tribal portion of diehard party loyalists and activist volunteers, do we overestimate our influence in electing federal officials? If we’re counting votes, we definitely do.
It’s simply a matter of numbers.
Although some LGBT voters are as susceptible to vastly overestimating the number of gay Americans as has been shown to be the case among the general public, every reliable counting consistently enumerates the percentage within a consistent and narrow range. The consensus among Census estimates, government agency tallies, polling firms and demographic survey research organizations pegs the combined number of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender adults at an approximate average of slightly above 3 percent of the population.
Add to the mix the diversity of political opinion among LGBT voters and the net benefit for the party currently enjoying super-majority support is further reduced. In round figures, if approximately 4 million LGBT votes are among 130 million votes cast in a presidential election, the current net Democratic advantage is known to be fewer than three million votes.
Nothing to scoff at, to be sure, in a country essentially evenly divided in a largely binary political competition. But the bulk of those votes are primarily dispersed among the vast majority of states in which the presidential election outcome is not a mystery in advance of actual votes cast. In all but a small number of states LGBT voters do not possess even a theoretical potential to affect the decision.
In the few competitive “toss-up” states, LGBT voters are also likely to reflect the more moderate political perspective inherent to the state with their ballot decisions likewise more mixed. Gay voters living outside of urban LGBT enclaves in states where the Democratic nominee consistently wins are not in exile. For a myriad of reasons they have chosen to live where that decision often reflects political preferences and cultural considerations decidedly less liberal than found in larger East Coast and West Coast cities.
In a modern era in which affiliation with either major political party has reached new record lows, LGBT adults are increasingly likely to also be “independent” voters. A majority of all voters under 35 now identify that way, and combined Democrats and Republicans together constitute barely-or-less-than half of all Americans. In addition, the percentage of each party’s support is in a continuing free-fall.
It is reasonable to assume that a characteristically independent LGBT demographic is among those estranged from both political parties. The unusually high percentage of gays and lesbians engaged in commerce as entrepreneurs, business operators, professional contractors and corporate leadership – estimated by the National Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce at 10 percent of us – also influences political views.
As LGBT voters shift their focus from inward issues of marriage and civil equality, we should anticipate that the existing one-quarter to one-third share of gay votes for Republican candidates will grow in equity with those currently cast for Democratic candidates, particularly in politically moderate regions of the country.
Neither political party should consider our votes either won or lost. On the full range of core issues of general voter concern that decide elections, LGBT votes are as attainable as those of ordinary Americans.
Especially as we become simply that – ordinary Americans.