Naturally, I read all sorts of stuff on Obama and gay marriage yesterday. My favorite is John Cassidy’s because it’s almost exactly what I had been thinking (and since he’s already written it up so nicely):
Obama’s stance in 2008 was a product of careful cost-benefit analysis, and so, I would wager, was his reversal yesterday. This was primarily about internal Democratic politics. Confronted with an enthusiasm deficit (think about those empty seats in Ohio) and a dollar deficit (think about Karl Rove and his super-duper Super PAC), Obama needed to fire up his base, gin up some more campaign contributions, and head off a damaging row. (Supporters of same-sex marriage were threatening to stage a floor fight at the Democratic Convention.) In saying the words “I think same-sex couples should be able to get married,” he accomplished all of these things at some political cost nationally, but one that he and his advisers evidently decided was bearable…
Why then did he change course? To repeat, I suspect it came down to cost-benefit analysis. Because of the internal dynamics of the Democratic Party, the costs of sticking with his previous position of supporting civil unions but opposing gay marriage had become too high. Faced with the threat of an embarrassing battle at the Convention in Charlotte, a story in today’s Times makes clear, the President and his advisors had already acknowledged that he would have to change course sometime before September. The only question was when. Turning necessity into an opportunity, they decided to try and get ahead of the game.
Not surprisingly, I also really like John Sides‘ very political-sciencey take. Short version: please, you are way overestimating how this will impact the election outcome. Slightly longer:
3) What percentage of people really make the decision about whether to vote based on the candidates’ positions on a single issue? And what percentage of voters are truly persuadable in terms of the candidate they support? Why would these voters make a decision about whom to vote based on Obama’s position on gay marriage? Are these “marginal” voters the kinds of people who are likely to follow the news closely enough to know Obama’s position? If particular groups of voters might be turned on/off by the president’s announcement, what fraction of the electorate do those voters comprise? Are those voters located in battleground states? If so, in what proportion?
My prediction is that, once these factors are put together and doing the math—small changes in attitudes among small numbers of voters, etc., etc.—it’s not likely that Obama’s announcement will be a significant factor in November. In the meantime, if pundits want to speculate, these are the questions they should ask and answer.
And, he even runs some numbers:
Now imagine a world in which every person who opposes same-sex marriage now “somewhat favors” it. How much would Obama’s vote share increase? 4.7 points.
On a quasi-related note– really interesting Will Saletan piece that looks at the evolution of society’s views on gay marriage.
And, finally, the least related note– the reporter from Mischpacha– an Orthodox Jewish magazine– seemed incredulous that I didn’t say that this whole thing doomed Obama. As for the mission of Mischpacha? ”Mishpacha aims to deliver timely analysis of world events that impact Jewish people and to provide informative and compelling features in a format suitable to readers striving to live by Torah standards.”