Proposition Eight Had Broad Range Of Support, Opposition

New research is challenging the conventional wisdom about which groups were pivotal in approving California’s same sex marriage ban, Proposition 8. David Fleischer, author of “The Prop. 8 Report,” discusses what he found in two years of analyzing data about supporters and opponents of the law.

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MICHEL MARTIN, host:

This is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. I'm Michel Martin.

Later in the program, how does a U.S. citizen who leaves the country to study abroad and ends up on the no-fly list make it back home? We'll talk to a former U.S. Marine who is in that situation. And we'll talk with a former Homeland Security official who talks about the no-fly list and the role he believes it plays in national security. That's later.

But first, we want to continue our conversation about same sex marriage to ask: Now what? In an L.A. Times commentary, veteran gay rights political strategist David Fleischer argues that it is very important to answer that question, especially for supporters to understand how Proposition 8 got passed to begin with. And he maintains that much of the conventional wisdom around why Proposition 8 passed is wrong. He's with us now to tell us more. He's with us from NPR West. Thanks for joining us.

Mr. DAVID FLEISCHER (Gay Rights Political Strategist): Thanks for having me, Michel.

MARTIN: David, you did a deep look at exit polling data precisely because you say it's important to really understand the history here. Now we know that the wording on the Proposition 8 ballot was confusing, that we don't have to go into why, but you say that it passed by 600,000 votes. But if you say if the language had been clear, the margin would actually have been larger. Why do you say that?

Mr. FLEISCHER: Well, the exit polling doesn't tell us that, but the No on 8 campaign was smart enough to commission internal polling, almost every day for the final six weeks leading up to the election. And as a result, were able to track day by day both the changes in voters' opinion on how they were going to vote on Prop 8 and the changes in their opinion on the issue of same sex marriage. And you would think, boy, those would be exactly parallel, but they're not.

It turns out that there's a large group of people who oppose same sex marriage, who nevertheless, because they were confused about how to vote, were prepared to vote no on 8, and they voted no on 8. And although there was wrong way voting in the direction as well, the net beneficiary of the wrong way voting, very substantially, was no on 8.

MARTIN: Now, one of the interesting findings you have a large study about this, which is it's very interesting. But one of the things that I want to pick up on is the fact that a lot of people now believe that African-Americans were the reason for this, that African-Americans came out in large numbers to support Barack Obama and that their votes were dispositive.

And you're saying that that's actually not true. That the real thing that people should be looking at is the people in the base who started who supported gay marriage before the campaign actually got into full swing and then actually changed their minds. Who were these people who changed their minds and why?

Mr. FLEISCHER: Well, you're absolutely right to point to this, Michel, because, you know, in any election, in the final stage of the campaign, many people don't change their mind, but often what determines the outcome of the election are the group of swing voters who do change their mind. And so African-Americans a majority of African-Americans did vote, you know, in favor of Prop 8. They also started out in favor of Prop 8 when they were exposed to really pernicious anti-gay campaign in the final six weeks.

What's interesting is they are not the ones who change their mind. But in those final six weeks with those anti-gay ads on the air, and with the average California voters seeing those ads 20 to 40 times, it turns out that 700,000 Californians did change their mind and decided to oppose same sex marriage. And the key group that was affected by those ads were parents. Parents with kids under 18 living at home.

MARTIN: And why did they?

Mr. FLEISCHER: Well, they were the ones targeted by those ads. And if you'll remember, the single most broadcast ad of the entire campaign, the Prince's ad, had this little girl coming home from school saying to her mom, mommy, guess what I learned in school today. And supposedly what she had learned in school was that she was being encouraged to grow up to marry a woman. And obviously that isn't what happens in school. But the fears that evoked resonated with a range of voters and particularly parents.

MARTIN: You also say that people one of the conventional understandings that you wanted to challenge in your report was that people who voted against gay marriage because they hate gays. And you're saying that that's not true. Could you explain that further?

Mr. FLEISCHER: Yeah. It turns out the people who change their mind in those final six weeks, the largest the clearest way to describe them is they're white Democrats. They disproportionately live in the San Francisco the greater San Francisco Bay Area. Demographically, they're very similar to people who support us. And in fact, only a few weeks before they voted against us, these people did support us. And so they're not haters. And it would be a mistake to think of them as haters because there surely were people involved in putting this on the ballot and running the Yes on 8 campaign who had very unkind thoughts and intentions towards gay people.

But the peoples whose votes made the difference between winning and losing the people who changed their mind near the end when they were exposed to a fear mongering campaign, those people don't hate us. They may have some anti-gay prejudice buried inside them that these ads skillfully exploited or even exaggerated. But the reason that we need to know that they're not haters is because we have to realize that we could bring them back to our side. They're persuadable.

And in fact, door to door canvassing that we're doing right now in Los Angeles, has shown us that these voters are willing to engage in dialogue with us and very open to reconsidering.

MARTIN: How do you get around the fact that though, that you I totally take your point of view - say many of the people who voted to ban same gender marriage were not motivated by a revulsion for gays. It's not that they have some idea that these are bad people and we want, you know, them to go away and leave us, but that they have specific concerns about their children being let's say their children being exposed to a fundamental aspect of somebody's identity. How do you reconcile those two competing and perhaps strongly felt views?

Mr. FLEISCHER: The way you reconcile it is taking enough time with people to actually first understand what the concern is. And it's not always obvious, because there are many possible fears that people could have. So one of the reasons people may want to go online and look at Prop8Report.org because we've got video footage of some of our door to door conversations with voters where we actually ask them what was concerning you.

MARTIN: And there are in your view forgive me, we're almost out of time lines of dialogue that you think are available for further discussion. So we need to have further discussion, too. David Fleischer is a gay rights political strategist. He's a veteran of many, many campaigns advancing gay rights and he joined us from our studios in Culver City, California. We'll have a link to the piece that he wrote, as well as a larger report. You can read it for yourself at npr.org and TELL ME MORE. Thank you, David.

Mr. FLEISCHER: Thank you, Michel.

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