Tuesday, June 10, 2003

The effect of civil unions on the campaign

The question came up on the BartCop forum regarding the impact Dean's support of civil unions will have on the election. I've thought a lot about this issue and I think this is as good an opportunity as any to state my opinions on the matter. The short of it: I don't think it will be fatal. In fact, I think it will be a net benefit for Dean. The long of it: 1) Dean is not running away from the issue. Your typical cowardly politician would be trying to sweep under the rug their support for something that his pollsters tell him might be a political hot potato. Dean, contrary to such advice, is loudly advertising his support for civil unions. People like that kind of political courage, even if they don't necessarily like the position. Effect on election: positive 2) Similarly, by talking so loudly about it now it makes it harder for the opposition to make a big deal about it. Dean is ALREADY making a big deal about. It is not a secret. Effect on election: neutral to positive 3) People like to think they are on the side of the angels. Many may be personally squeamish about the issue of homosexuality, but Dean is framing this issue as one of equal rights, not homosexual rights. Framed that way it gives the squeamish the opportunity to vote for something that they might otherwise reflexively oppose. This proved to be true in Vermont where Dean signed the legislation into law just prior to a close election, even though it was supported in the polls by only 40% of the populous, and Dean went on to win. Effect on election: neutral to positive 4) People who care a lot about this issue will become strong activists for Dean. The homosexual community has a much higher percentage of experienced activists than other communities. Inspired and experienced activists are worth their wait in gold. They will be able to do a lot of work for Dean behind the scenes. A gay man can phone bank in rural Mississippi without revealing he is gay. Effect on election: positive Yes, there will be negative effects because the bigots and homophobes and freepers will freak out about it. But most of them wouldn't have voted for Dean anyway. They can be more than offset by the numbers of disillusioned and disaffected voters Dean is bringing into his camp. In other words, who cares if he loses the 10% of the registered voters who are bigots if he can bring in 11% of the registered voters who haven't bothered to vote in recent elections?

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