Amid celebration in the LGBTQ community over the wins of Joe Biden and Kamala Harris in the 2020 election, gay conservatives are claiming a small victory of their own with President Trump claiming a better than expected percentage of the LGBTQ vote.
Trump won 28 percent of the LGBTQ vote compared to the 61 percent won by Biden, according to exit polling from Edison Research, which compiles demographic information for every U.S. election, published last week in the New York Times.
Self-identified LGBTQ voters also represented 7 percent of the electorate — the highest percentage in any election since the LGBTQ vote was first recorded in 1996.
Charles Moran, co-chair of the Trump Pride coalition and managing director of Log Cabin Republicans, said the LGBTQ vote demonstrates Trump was a “candidate who is unlike previous Republicans.”
“Donald Trump was the first president elected who supported gay marriage and had a long, deep relationship with the LGBTQ community before he got into politics,” Moran said. “We didn’t have to play the ‘how comfortable are you with LGBTQ issues’ game with him like we did with other candidates. It was a given from Day 1.”
To be sure, Trump has built an anti-LGBTQ record that includes a transgender military ban, arguing against LGBTQ inclusion in civil rights in court and green lighting anti-LGBTQ discrimination in the name of religious freedom. In many respects, that record makes Trump’s claim to a higher percentage of the LGBTQ vote even stranger.
The 28 percent of the LGBTQ vote Trump secured is the highest percentage for any Republican presidential nominee since George W. Bush in 2000, when polls showed he won 33 percent of the LGBTQ vote. It’s also significantly higher than Trump’s share of the LGBTQ vote in 2016, when LGBTQ voters backed Hillary Clinton over Trump by a lopsided 78-14 margin.
Biden, on the other hand, with 61 percent of the LGBTQ vote secured the lowest majority of any Democratic presidential nominee since that demographic was first recored in 1992.
The national polling company Edison Research conducted the presidential election exit poll, as it has in past years, for the National Election Pool, a consortium of ABC News, the Associated Press, CBS News, CNN, Fox News and NBC News.
Moran said the large number of LGBTQ people who backed Trump is the result of the Republican Party having “an actual LGBTQ strategy/focus.”
“There had never been an official LGBTQ coalition on a Republican presidential campaign before,” Moran said. “There had never been a senior adviser at the RNC focused on our issues: Ric Grenell. There had never been a dedicated LGBTQ outreach effort — (the Trump Pride events we did in eight cities — with some of the best surrogates out there (Lara Trump, Tiffany Trump, Kimberly Guilfoyle, etc).”
Moran also attributed the relatively strong performance by Trump among LGBTQ voters to Outspoken, the newly created media arm of Log Cabin Republicans, in addition to expanding the national chapters network and adding tens of thousands of new members.
As a result, Moran said he thinks Trump in reality secured support from the LGBTQ community “up in the low 30’s — so a third of the community.”
Concurrent with those efforts was the “Walk Away” campaign founded by Brandon Straka, which sought to convince minority groups traditionally associated with the Democrats to abandon the party ahead of the 2020 election. Straka didn’t respond to a request to comment for this article.
The relatively strong showing by Trump among LGBTQ voters is consistent with high margins of support he won among other minorities.
According to result from exit polls, Trump won the highest percentage of non-white voters for a Republican presidential candidate since 1960. Trump won 32 percent of Latino votes, thanks in part to a strong showing among Cuban-Americans in Florida, and doubled his support among Black Americans from 2016.
Gary Gates, a retired expert in LGBTQ data collection in surveys, came up short when asked why Trump had a stronger showing among LGBTQ respondents.
“If that group, for instance, skewed older or skewed very white, then you might expect somewhat higher numbers for Trump,” Gates said. “If you think that LGBT population, in some way mimics characteristics of the general population which is certainly at least if they’re more white, they’re more likely to vote for Trump, so I think it’s very difficult to know.”
Gates, however, said the low support Biden won from LGBTQ voters is the “more interesting statistic,” because that’s a historic low for a Democratic candidate.
“Some people have observed that Biden didn’t specifically call out LGBT issues in many of the debates this year,” Gates said. “I don’t know if people feel like their outreach to LGBT voters was more muted this year than other candidates, Democrats have done in the past. It’s hard to tell, but that 61 percent is quite a bit lower than other Democrats have gotten.”
During the election, the Republican National Committee hired Grenell as its face of LGBTQ outreach in the aftermath of serving in the Trump administration as acting director of national intelligence.
Last week, however, Grenell was in another role in Nevada on behalf of the Trump campaign, claiming voter fraud based on scant evidence. Grenell didn’t respond to the Washington Blade’s request to comment for this article, nor did the Trump campaign.
In addition to finding an unusual split among LGBTQ voters in terms of candidate choice, the exit poll finding seven percent of the electorate identified as LGBTQ is noteworthy because it was a record. In 2016, when LGBTQ voters were considered to have come out in full force, they represented five percent.
Alphonso David, president of the Human Rights Campaign, capitalized on the seven percent of voters identifying as LGBTQ in a statement upon the release of the exit polls as evidence of record turnout.
“Over the last three elections, the share of LGBTQ voters has continued to increase, solidifying our community as a key rising constituency that politicians must court,” David said. “Our issues matter, our votes matter and politicians around the country have taken notice.”
But whether the seven percent of exit poll respondents who identified as LGBTQ represents a growth in turnout or just a greater number of voters willing to tell pollsters they’re LGBTQ remains unknown.
Gates said the seven percent figure is greater than the five percent of people identifying as LGBTQ in U.S. surveys, which suggests LGBTQ people were more eager than the general public to go to the polls.
“I think it is evidence of the broader trend of more LGBT people being willing to identify as such in surveys,” Gates said. “But I think it does also still indicate that it could be that LGBT people are actually a bit more likely to be voters than the general population because that number, 7 percent is still a bit higher than most other population surveys.”
Gates lamented additional demographic information wasn’t included in the exit polls. If that showed the exit poll skewed more toward younger voters, which are more likely to identify as LGBTQ, Gates said that would explain why LGBTQ voters appeared as a greater portion of the electorate.
But are the findings accurate? Just ask John Kerry, who based on exit polls in 2004 was supposed to win in a blowout against then-President George W. Bush before losing badly, to find out about the lack of quality of the data.
Brian Schaffner, a political scientist at Tufts University, said the LGBTQ vote “is obviously difficult to capture for most surveys because it’s such a small share of the adult population, but some of these large election surveys have a sufficiently large sample size that allow for a reasonable sample of this group.”
“That said, the exit poll only has a sample size of 15,590 this year,” Schaffner said. “That means the sample size for the LGBTQ group is probably somewhere in the 1,000 range. So there is definitely a margin of error around those estimates that we need to keep in mind.”
In contrast to the exit poll, the 2020 Cooperative Election Study (previously the CCES) fielded by YouGov from Sept. 29 to Oct. 27 found among LGBTQ voters, the breakdown was 75 percent for Biden and 20 percent for Trump.
Schaffner said he had a hand in conducting the survey and it had a sample of 50,000 likely voters, which he said was much wider than the exit polls.
“I suspect that the exit poll’s estimate for Trump’s vote share among this group is a bit high,” Schaffner concluded. “We find him doing a bit worse and not much differently than he did in 2016. (We also found that LGBTQ voters were 10 percent of the electorate in 2016, which was higher than the exit poll suggested). At the same time, I would not be surprised if LGBTQ individuals made up at least 7 percent (if not more) of the 2020 electorate.”
Gates, however, said he thinks exit polls are accurate because they’re consistent with the election results, as opposed to pre-election polling, which he said was off.
“In the past, exit polls have been notoriously inaccurate,” Gates said. “Broadly this year, when you compare what whole pre-election polling was saying would happen and the actual outcome to now what the exit polls would suggest would happen versus the outcome, the exit polls appear to be much more accurate than pre-election polling because the exit poll suggests that it was a tight race, and that generally was not the expectation in most pre-election polling.”
The strong showing by Trump among LGBTQ voters, as well as the record high presence of LGBTQ votes in the electorate, may provide a lesson for any future Republican candidate.
But much like Trump himself, who has refused to concede and has pledged a quixotic legal challenge to Biden’s victory, Moran said the battle with the 2020 Republican presidential nominee isn’t over yet.
“The campaign is still going on with counting votes and legal challenges/recounts, so nobody is in ‘reflection’ mode,” Moran said. “Our members are plugged in on the ground and on social networks continuing to move the ball forward, but I’m very much looking forward to conducting our own review of our effectiveness when the time comes.”