Memo|Politics/Elections   8 Minute Read

Pro-Marriage Legislators Win Elections

Published March 5, 2013

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Takeaways

Do voters punish legislators who support marriage for gay couples? A look at the data from the 2012 election shows that the answer is NO.

  • 97% of those who voted for marriage and ran for reelection won, compared to only 90% of incumbent state legislators nationwide.
  • Of the 5 who lost, 2 were under investigation for corruption or misuse of taxpayer dollars, so only 3 of 146 lost without being under an ethics cloud (2%).
  • At least 85% of the 13 Republican legislators who voted for marriage since the 2010 election did not lose their seats because of it.

Pro-Marriage Legislators Win Elections

The politics of marriage for gay couples are changing rapidly, and evidence from the most recent election shows that it is not politically perilous for state legislators to vote in favor of laws allowing committed gay and lesbian couples to marry. Since the 2010 election, both chambers of the state legislatures in New York (June 2011), Washington (February 2012), New Jersey (February 2012), and Maryland (March 2012) have passed laws allowing gay and lesbian couples to marry. Since those votes, the legislatures of New York and Washington faced reelection in the 2012 elections. In those two states, a total of 196 legislators voted in favor of marriage: 113 in New York and 83 in Washington. Of the 196 legislators who voted to support marriage for committed gay and lesbian couples, only 5 lost their seats in the 2012 election: 4 in New York and 1 in Washington. And only in 3 of those elections is there even a remote possibility that a legislator’s marriage vote contributed to their loss.

Ninety-seven percent of state legislators who voted for marriage and ran for reelection won.

A staggering 97% of the state legislators from both parties who voted to allow gay couples to marry in their state and ran for reelection in 2012 won their races: 141 legislators were reelected, 50 did not run (either because they were not up for reelection in 2012, or because they retired, resigned, or ran for another public office), and only 5 lost their races. Of those 5 who lost, 2 were under investigation for corruption or misuse of taxpayer dollars, and 3 ran for reelection and lost without being under a cloud of ethics. In these 3 cases—which represent only 2% of these races—there were multiple factors contributing to the losses. This 97% reelection rate was significantly higher than the national average—across the country in 2012, 10% of incumbent state legislators who filed for reelection were defeated.1

2012 Electoral Outcomes for Pro-Marriage Legislators

 

Democrats

Republicans

Total

Did not run for reelection*

43

7

50 
 (25.5%)

Ran and won

136

4

140 (+1 Ind.) = 141
(71.9%)

Ran and lost while being investigated for corruption charges

2

0

2
(1%)

Ran and lost without an ethics cloud

1

2

3
(1.5%)

*Includes 14 who were not up in 2012

While for Republicans, a vote in support of marriage may still come up in a primary, the evidence shows that it is not determinative to their electoral prospects—in fact, only two of the 13 Republicans who supported marriage lost their seat in a way that could even be partly attributed to their marriage vote. And for Democrats, a vote for marriage appears unlikely to have any negative effect at all, as only 1 out of 139 Democratic lawmakers who voted for marriage and was not under investigation was defeated—less than a 1% rate of loss.

Even for Democrats in moderate districts, marriage does not appear to hurt state legislators’ chances of reelection. For example, New York State Senator Joseph Addabbo represents a particularly moderate district in Queens that had become even more conservative since his last election, when it was redistricted to include much of the Rockaway Peninsula.2 And yet he won reelection in 2012 after voting for marriage just one year earlier. Only one Democrat who voted for marriage and was not under investigation lost her seat in 2012, and still her conservative-leaning district voted for marriage in the state-wide referendum on the issue.

The losses had many factors, and in most, marriage wasn’t even among them.

Marriage Not a Factor for Two New York Democratic Losses

The two Democratic legislators (Naomi Rivera and Shirley Huntley) who lost their seats in New York were under investigation for corruption or misuse of taxpayer dollars—making those troubles the likely cause of their losses, not their vote on marriage.

Marriage Not a Likely Cause of Washington Democratic Loss

Washington State Senator Mary Margaret Haugen (D) lost her seat in the general election, but on that same day her district voted in favor of marriage in the state-wide referendum, making it unlikely that her vote was the cause of her defeat.

Marriage Not a Major Factor in New York Republican General Election Loss

 New York State Senator Stephan Saland won his primary against a Republican challenger who accused him of betraying traditional family values. He later lost to a Democrat in the general election. While it is plausible that marriage played a small part in Saland’s general election loss, it was clearly not the main reason for it, since the Democrat who defeated him supported marriage for gay couples as well.  

Marriage Not the Only Factor in New York Republican Primary Loss

Of the four Republican Senators and three Assemblymen who voted for marriage in New York, State Senator Roy McDonald was the only one to lose his seat in a primary challenge. He was also the only one to raise less money than his opponent. Even so, the vote was so close that it could not be called on Election Day and came down to the counting of absentee ballots.

The vast majority of Americans wouldn’t punish a policymaker for supporting marriage.

Most Americans consistently say that a lawmaker’s position on marriage would not affect whether they vote for that person. For example, in a 2011 national poll by Grove Insight for Third Way, a plurality (45%) said that a candidate’s view on marriage for gay couples would make no difference in their vote.3 An immediate post-election poll in Washington State in November 2012 echoed that conclusion: 44% said that President Obama’s marriage support had no effect on their vote, and the numbers were similar for state legislators—40% said the issue made no difference.4 

But when the sample was narrowed to moderate voters—who nearly always decide elections—the numbers looked even better for marriage. A full 30% of moderates said they were more likely to vote for the President because he supported marriage for gay couples, while only 12% said that issue made them less likely to pull the lever to reelect him. Fifty-eight percent of moderates said it made no difference. These numbers were nearly identical for state legislators. A full 30% of moderate voters said they were more prone to vote for a state legislator who supported marriage, while only 14% said they were less prone to do so, and 56% said the issue made no difference in their vote.

Conclusion

The politics of marriage for gay couples is changing rapidly, and support for marriage is growing every day. For example, between 2004 and 2011, support increased 16 points, with big shifts across every demographic group and region of the country.5 In fact, during that time period, moderates shifted faster than any other group—gaining 21 points in support for marriage—and the number of conservatives who supported marriage doubled over that timeframe. While a quarter of this shift has come from younger people who are more accepting aging into the population, 75% of the movement is due to Americans changing their minds on the issue and deciding to support the freedom to marry.6

Today, Americans in 9 states and the District of Columbia have the ability to marry the person they love, and many were granted that freedom by their state legislatures or by a direct vote of the people. Supporting marriage for gay couples should no longer be considered a political risk for Democrats—even those in moderate districts. In fact, all but 1 of the 139 Democrats who ran without being under an ethics investigation won re-election. For Republicans, the issue may still play a small role in primary campaigns, but at least 85% of Republican legislators who voted for marriage since the 2010 election did not lose their seat because of it. By the 2014 election, we expect marriage votes to have an even more negligible effect than they had in 2012.

Appendi: Election Results for Pro-Marriage Legislators

New York Senate

Party

Status

Adams

Democrat

Reelected

Addabbo

Democrat

Reelected

Avella

Democrat

Reelected

Breslin

Democrat

Reelected

Carlucci

Democrat

Reelected

Dilan

Democrat

Reelected

Duane

Democrat

Retired

Espaillat

Democrat

Reelected

Gianaris

Democrat

Reelected

Hassell-Thompson

Democrat

Reelected

Huntley

Democrat

Lost

Kennedy

Democrat

Reelected

Klein

Democrat

Reelected

Krueger

Democrat

Reelected

Kruger

Democrat

Resigned

Montgomery

Democrat

Reelected

Oppenheimer

Democrat

Retired

Parker

Democrat

Reelected

Peralta

Democrat

Reelected

Perkins

Democrat

Reelected

Rivera

Democrat

Reelected

Sampson

Democrat

Reelected

Savino

Democrat

Reelected

Serrano

Democrat

Reelected

Smith

Democrat

Reelected

Squadron

Democrat

Reelected

Stavisky

Democrat

Reelected

Valesky

Democrat

Reelected

Stewart-Cousins

Democrat

Reelected

Alesi

Republican

Retired

Saland

Republican

Lost

McDonald

Republican

Lost

Grisanti

Republican

Reelected

New York Assembly

Party

Status

Abinanti

Democrat

Reelected

Arroyo

Democrat

Reelected

Aubry

Democrat

Reelected

Benedetto

Democrat

Reelected

Bing

Democrat

Resigned

Boyland

Democrat

Reelected

Braunstein

Democrat

Reelected

Brennan

Democrat

Reelected

Bronson

Democrat

Reelected

Brook-Krasny

Democrat

Reelected

Cahill

Democrat

Reelected

Camara

Democrat

Reelected

Canestrari

Democrat

Retired

Castro

Democrat

Reelected

Cook

Democrat

Reelected

Cusick

Democrat

Reelected

DenDekker

Democrat

Reelected

Dinowitz

Democrat

Reelected

Englebright

Democrat

Reelected

Farrell

Democrat

Reelected

Galef

Democrat

Reelected

Glick

Democrat

Reelected

Gottfried

Democrat

Reelected

Gunther

Democrat

Reelected

Heastie

Democrat

Reelected

Hevesi

Democrat

Reelected

Hoyt

Democrat

Resigned

Jacobs

Democrat

Reelected

Jaffee

Democrat

Reelected

Jeffries

Democrat

Retired

Kavanagh

Democrat

Reelected

Kellner

Democrat

Reelected

Lancman

Democrat

Retired

Latimer

Democrat

Retired

Lavine

Democrat

Reelected

Lentol

Democrat

Reelected

Lifton

Democrat

Reelected

Linares

Democrat

Retired

Lopez, VJ

Democrat

Reelected

Lupardo

Democrat

Reelected

Magnarelli

Democrat

Reelected

Maisel

Democrat

Reelected

McEneny

Democrat

Retired

Meng

Democrat

Retired

Millman

Democrat

Reelected

Morelle

Democrat

Reelected

Moya

Democrat

Reelected

Nolan

Democrat

Reelected

O'Donnell

Democrat

Reelected

Ortiz

Democrat

Reelected

Paulin

Democrat

Reelected

Peoples-Stokes

Democrat

Reelected

Perry

Democrat

Reelected

Pretlow

Democrat

Reelected

Ramos

Democrat

Reelected

Reilly

Democrat

Retired

Rivera, Jose

Democrat

Reelected

Rivera, Naomi

Democrat

Lost

Rivera, Peter

Democrat

Resigned

Roberts

Democrat

Reelected

Rodriguez

Democrat

Reelected

Rosenthal

Democrat

Reelected

Russell

Democrat

Reelected

Schimel

Democrat

Reelected

Schroeder

Democrat

Resigned

Simotas

Democrat

Reelected

Spano

Democrat

Resigned

Sweeney

Democrat

Reelected

Titone

Democrat

Reelected

Titus

Democrat

Reelected

Weinstein

Democrat

Reelected

Weisenberg

Democrat

Reelected

Weprin

Democrat

Reelected

Wright

Democrat

Reelected

Zebrowski

Democrat

Reelected

Silver

Democrat

Reelected

Sayward

Republican

Resigned

Miller, Joel

Republican

Resigned

Duprey

Republican

Reelected

Thiele

Independent

Reelected

Washington Senate

Party

Status

Brown

Democrat

Not up in 2012

Chase

Democrat

Not up in 2012

Conway

Democrat

Not up in 2012

Eide

Democrat

Not up in 2012

Fraser

Democrat

Reelected

Frockt

Democrat

Reelected

Harper

Democrat

Not up in 2012

Hatfield

Democrat

Reelected

Haugen

Democrat

Lost

Hobbs

Democrat

Not up in 2012

Kastama

Democrat

Retired

Keiser

Democrat

Not up in 2012

Kilmer

Democrat

Retired

Kline

Democrat

Not up in 2012

Kohl-Welles

Democrat

Not up in 2012

McAuliffe

Democrat

Reelected

Murray

Democrat

Not up in 2012

Nelson

Democrat

Not up in 2012

Prentice

Democrat

Retired

Pridemore

Democrat

Retired

Ranker

Democrat

Reelected

Regala

Democrat

Retired

Rolfes

Democrat

Reelected

Tom

Democrat

Not up in 2012

Fain

Republican

Not up in 2012

Litzow

Republican

Reelected

Pflug

Republican

Retired

Hill

Republican

Not up in 2012

Washington House

Party

Status

Appleton

Democrat

Reelected

Billig

Democrat

Retired

Blake

Democrat

Reelected

Carlyle

Democrat

Reelected

Clibborn

Democrat

Reelected

Cody

Democrat

Reelected

Darneille

Democrat

Retired

Dickerson

Democrat

Retired

Dunshee

Democrat

Reelected

Eddy

Democrat

Retired

Finn

Democrat

Retired

Fitzgibbon

Democrat

Relected

Goodman

Democrat

Relected

Green

Democrat

Relected

Haigh

Democrat

Relected

Hansen

Democrat

Relected

Hasegawa

Democrat

Retired

Hudgins

Democrat

Reelected

Hunt

Democrat

Reelected

Hunter

Democrat

Reelected

Jinkins

Democrat

Reelected

Kagi

Democrat

Reelected

Kelley

Democrat

Retired

Kenney

Democrat

Retired

Ladenburg

Democrat

Retired

Liias

Democrat

Reelected

Lytton

Democrat

Reelected

Maxwell

Democrat

Reelected

McCoy

Democrat

Reelected

Moeller

Democrat

Reelected

Morris

Democrat

Reelected

Moscoso

Democrat

Reelected

Ormsby

Democrat

Reelected

Orwall

Democrat

Reelected

Pedersen

Democrat

Reelected

Pettigrew

Democrat

Reelected

Pollet

Democrat

Reelected

Probst

Democrat

Retired

Reykdal

Democrat

Reelected

Roberts

Democrat

Reelected

Ryu

Democrat

Reelected

Santos

Democrat

Reelected

Seaquist

Democrat

Reelected

Sells

Democrat

Reelected

Springer

Democrat

Reelected

Stanford

Democrat

Reelected

Sullivan

Democrat

Reelected

Takko

Democrat

Reelected

Tharinger

Democrat

Reelected

Upthegrove

Democrat

Reelected

Van De Wege

Democrat

Reelected

Wylie

Democrat

Reelected

Chopp

Democrat

Reelected

Anderson

Republican

Retired

Walsh

Republican

Reelected

  1. 4783 state legislator incumbents filed for reelection in 2012, and 491 were defeated (197 in primaries and 294 in the general election). “Incumbents defeated in 2012’s state legislative elections,” Ballotpedia, December 13, 2012. Accessed February 26, 2012. Available at: http://ballotpedia.org/wiki/index.php/Incumbents_defeated_in_2012's_state_legislative_elections.

  2. Thomas Kaplan, “State Senate Races Tighter After The Storm,” The New York Times, November 4, 2012. Accessed February 25, 2013. Available at: http://www.nytimes.com/2012/11/05/nyregion/new-york-state-senate-races-tighter-after-storm.html.

  3. National poll by Grove Insight for Third Way, July 12-17, 2011, 1000 likely voters.

  4. Lanae Erickson Hatalsky and Sarah Trumble, “How Marriage Won in Washington State,” Report, Third Way, December 2012, pp. 3-4. Accessed February 25, 2013. Available at: http://www.thirdway.org/subjects/130/publications/623.

  5. Gregory B. Lewis and Lanae Erickson Hatalsky, “The Big Shift: Changing Views on Marriage for Gay Couples,” Report, Third Way, October 2012, pp. 1-2. Accessed February 25, 2013. Available at: http://www.thirdway.org/subjects/11/publications/600.

  6. Gregory B. Lewis and Lanae Erickson Hatalsky, “The Big Shift: Changing Views on Marriage for Gay Couples,” Report, Third Way, October 2012, pp. 1-2. Accessed February 25, 2013. Available at: http://www.thirdway.org/subjects/11/publications/600.

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