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Study Shows Party, Ideology, Religiosity, and Age Drove Vote On California's Proposition 8

January 6, 2009
N-213, 2008-09

An analysis of California’s Proposition 8 vote shows that party affiliation, political ideology, frequency of attending worship services, and age were the driving forces behind the passage of the measure. Proposition 8, which amended the California constitution to remove the right of same-sex couples to marry, was approved by the state’s voters by 52 to 48 percent on Nov. 4.

Through a precinct-by-precinct analysis and review of multiple other sources of data, the study also puts African-American support for Proposition 8 in the range of 57 to 59 percent-far short of the 70 percent reported election night. The study also found that after taking into account the effect of religiosity (as measured by attendance of religious services), support for Proposition 8 among African Americans and Latinos was not significantly different than that of other groups. In addition, the study shows how support for marriage equality has grown substantially across almost all California demographic groups.

Download the report-“California’s Proposition 8: What Happened, and What Does the Future Hold?”-at:

The study was written by Patrick J. Egan, assistant professor of politics and public policy at New York University, and Kenneth Sherrill, professor of political science at Hunter College, CUNY. Egan and Sherrill reviewed pre- and post-election polls as well as precinct-level voting data from five California counties with the high numbers of African-American voters. The study was commissioned by the Evelyn & Walter Haas, Jr. Fund in San Francisco.

Party, ideology, religiosity and age drove “yes” vote

The study found that four factors - party identification, ideology, frequency of religious service attendance, and age - drove the “yes” vote for Proposition 8. For example, more than 70 percent of voters who were Republican, identified themselves as conservative, or who attended religious services at least weekly supported Proposition 8. Conversely, 70 percent or more of voters who were Democrat, identified themselves as liberal, or who rarely attended religious services opposed the measure. More than two-thirds (67 percent) of voters 65 or older supported Proposition 8 while majorities under 65 opposed it.

African-American and Latino support for Proposition 8 not significantly higher after controlling for higher attendance of religious services

Since the passage of Proposition 8, much has been said about the dramatic opposition to marriage equality among African Americans, fueled by National Election Pool (NEP) figures indicating 70 percent of California’s African Americans supported Proposition 8. However, this study found that once attendance of religious services is factored out, there was no significant difference between African Americans and other groups. People of all races and ethnicities who worship at least once a week overwhelmingly supported Proposition 8, with support among white, Asian, and Latino frequent churchgoers actually being greater than among African Americans.

Moreover, the study found that the level of support for Proposition 8 among African Americans was below the 70 percent figure in the NEP exit poll. The study looked at pre- and post-election polls and conducted an analysis of precinct-level voting data from five California counties where African-American populations are high-Alameda (which includes the city of Oakland), Los Angeles, Sacramento, San Diego, and San Francisco. Based on this, it concludes that the level of African-American support for Proposition 8 was in the range of 57-59 percent. The analysis also found that many precincts with few black voters supported Proposition 8 at levels just as high or higher than those with many black voters.

Support for marriage equality grows across most demographic groups

The study found that overall support for marriage equality among Californians has increased by 9 percent since 2000, with support increasing among every age group under age 65, across all racial and ethnic groups and among Protestants, Catholics, and Jews. There are three groups where voting patterns have not changed: Republicans, conservatives, and those 65 and older. The largest gain - up 16 percent - was among voters 45-64 years of age, followed by a 13 percent increase among voters 18-29. Among Republicans, support for gay marriage marry fell slightly (1 percent) compared to 2000. Support for gay marriage among Democrats increased 13 percent.

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Graduate School of Arts and Science, Research

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