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Obama and Gay Marriage: One Key Advantage

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What impact will Obama's endorsement of gay marriage have on the presidential election?

I am tempted to respond the way Chou En-lai did when he was asked what he thought was the impact of the French Revolution: "Too early to say."

In simplistic terms, however, there are several basic relevant facts:

  1. The public is almost evenly divided on the subject of gay marriage at the moment.
  2. Support for gay marriage has increased dramatically over the last 20 years and especially over the last two years; it may be reaching a "tipping point" that will see dramatically increased support.
  3. Support is uneven across states. Among swing states, this may hurt the President a bit in North Carolina, but help in Colorado. (I write this from Arizona, where it is probably a wash; the state is in the middle of states in polls on the issue. Arizona voters rejected a gay marriage ban in 2008 but approved one in 2010).
Those, however, are the static impacts -- the ones that assume nothing changes as a result of this dramatic statement by the president. Even though the public is almost evenly divided on the subject right now, the time trend is over the last few years is dramatically in the direction of increased support for gay marriage. And do not underestimate the potential impact of a presidential endorsement to accelerate this trend: it may move some people who are wavering on the issue.

There is one additional reason I think this helps the president. If he had not done so, the press would have spent the next six months speculating about the extent to which he was concealing his true beliefs out of political calculation. Instead of a calculating politician, Obama comes across as a decisive leader. That is not a bad position from which to run a presidential campaign, especially one where his opponent's sincerity has been questioned and his primary weakness is that he is seen by many as willing to say whatever he has to say to get elected. For the president to have ducked this issue would have made it very difficult to press the case that Mitt Romney is a flip-flopper without genuine political convictions.

This may prove to be an enduring advantage of the president's statement endorsing gay marriage.

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