Prop 8 and Race: A Rejoinder

Jim Burroway

January 14th, 2009

I want to highlight this comment left by Jaime Grant, director of the NGLTF Policy Institute, the research arm of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force. Jaime critiques my critique of the NGLTF study on California’s Prop 8 shedding some light on a key figure, discusses my concern about margins of error, and disagrees outright on some of my points. This is why we have comments; well-informed commenters keep us on our toes. We will have someone else weighing in on the study, hopefully later today.

As director of the NGLTF Policy Institute, I want to thank Jim Burroway for ultimately concluding that the authors of our recent election analysis report on Prop 8 – Ken Sherrill and Pat Egan “were successful in demonstrating that the Black vote may be closer to 58% than 70%.” At no point in the Task Force report do we make a claim that 58 percent is the precise answer. Rather, we stress throughout the study that the range of data available to us leads us to the conclusion that 58% is much more accurate than 70%.

Burroway is justifiably concerned about sample size. The DBR survey includes 149 African Americans, making the margin of error for that population (as is typically calculated by pollsters) 8 percentage points. Our analysis of this minority population is of course limited by its sample size in this survey. But unlike other polls, the DBR survey makes a deliberate attempt to rectify this problem by over-sampling African Americans, resulting in an African American sample that is at least double the size of those found in typical surveys of Californians. This greatly augments the statistical power of our survey to detect differences among racial and ethnic groups.

Burroway says that we conclude that “religiosity explains the differences in how African-Americans voted relative to everyone else.” This falsely characterizes our conclusions. We say rather that “controlling for frequency of religious attendance helps explain why African Americans supported Proposition 8 at higher levels than the population as a whole.” In other words, if you’re trying to figure out why African Americans voted at higher rates for Proposition 8 than the general population, part of the answer is that they as a group are more religious than the general population–and religious people voted at high rates for Prop. 8. We show this quite clearly.

Thanks for your attention to this study, which we believe points to the value of LGBT-friendly faith based organizing in ballot measure campaigns. As all of us consider how to move the dial just a few more critical points toward marriage equality, taking a close look at the vote, while taking stock of our strategies to date, is an important next step.

Jaime Grant
Director of the Policy Institute

Bill Ware

January 14th, 2009

Good back and forth. Glad they took time to respond and that you brought their comment to the front.

Timothy Kincaid

January 14th, 2009

In other words, if you’re trying to figure out why African Americans voted at higher rates for Proposition 8 than the general population, part of the answer is that they as a group are more religious than the general population–and religious people voted at high rates for Prop. 8.

Let’s see if that logic holds up well in looking at another demographic:

If you’re trying to figure out why gays voted at higher rates AGAINST Proposition 8 than the general population, part of the answer is that they as a group are more likely to live in coastal areas of the state than the general population – and coastal residents voted at high rates against Prop. 8.

Hmmm… not so likely.

Perhaps, Jamie Grant is making a distinction without a difference and is not ignoring the relationship between communities and religion. To suggest that religious attendance is the reason “why” African Americans voted for Prop 8 is much like suggesting that observant Jews vote in a particular way because they wear yarmelkes.

Priya Lynn

January 14th, 2009

Timothy said “To suggest that religious attendance is the reason “why” African Americans voted for Prop 8 is much like suggesting that observant Jews vote in a particular way because they wear yarmelkes.”

I don’t think so. Most Christians are anti-gay, its easier to read modern translations of the bible as anti-gay then not. It stands to reason that those who attend church are more likely to be anti-gay.

Clayton Critcher

January 14th, 2009

Timothy’s contention is based on his interpretation of the word “why” and the fact that Jaime did not include all of the information relied upon in the strong of logic Timothy quoted. Timothy is interpreting why as a “root cause.” Let me use Timothy’s analogies and the subject of the NGLTF report to explain both of these points:

Even though LGB Californians may be more likely to live in coastal communities, coastal residence would NOT statistically account for LGB Californians’ opposition to Prop 8, because these are two separate sources of influence. LGB Californians in the central valleys were certainly more likely to vote against Prop 8 than their heterosexual counterparts, so a statistical model would identify two separate causes of Prop 8 opposition: Coastal residence and LGB status. These are non-redundant signals.

If it is established that accounting for religiosity eliminates racial differences in Prop 8 support (but not vice versa), religiosity can be understood as a more “proximal cause” of Prop 8 support. I use the word “cause” here loosely, in that there could be something in people (Black and White alike) that attracts them to religion and leads them to be anti-gay. If religion is a better marker of this “anti-gay proclivity” than race, it could both be true that Blacks have more of this anti-gay proclivity than Whites, but that religion is a more efficient marker of this proclivity. I think this is the point Timothy was making; establishing what “proximally explains” an effect is different from understanding its root cause.

To address the yarmulke example: Imagine there are 10 Jews (all of whom were wearing yarmulkes) and 10 Protestants in a room. 9 of the Jews are liberal, and only 1 of the Protestants is. In this analysis, yarmulke-wearing would not be a predictor of political liberalism after controlling for religion (because it is a redundant signal). The reason that religion accounts for Prop 8 above and beyond race is that it is not a redundant signal.

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