Voting “Yes” vs. Voting “No”
But a campaign to repeal Prop 8 cannot simply be compared to a campaign to defeat it.
Anyone who has worked on initiative campaigns can tell you it is far easier to convince people to vote “no” on a proposition – than it is to vote “yes.” A “yes” campaign means educating voters about the issue, and making them feel good about something they might not totally understand. A “no” campaign just involves reinforcing their skepticism about our crazy initiative process. Last time, we had to run a “no” campaign to defeat Prop 8. This time, the challenge will be to ask voters to say “yes” to a proposition repealing it.
It is conventional wisdom that a ballot measure whose “yes” side is polling beneath 50% before the campaign starts in earnest is toast. Voters may initially like the idea when a pollster asks them a question, but they change their mind when the opposition campaigns against it. All you need to do to defeat a proposition is to spend a lot of money telling voters the measure is “confusing,” has “unintended consequences” or has a “hidden agenda.”
The most recent statewide poll in California shows that 47% support gay marriage, while 48% are opposed. If we assume this will be a traditional initiative campaign, going ahead in 2010 sounds like a foolish idea – because we’re below 50% a year before the election.
But this may not be a “traditional” initiative campaign. What we saw last year is that “Yes on 8” ran more like a traditional “no” campaign, while our side acted more like a “yes” campaign. It was “Yes on 8” that said marriage equality would have “unintended consequences” on public schools and religious freedom, while the “No on 8” campaign just tried to educate voters about the issue. The old rules may not apply in this situation.
What Will Be the Political Context?
Probably the best argument I’ve heard about waiting for 2012 is that voters will be in a sour mood in 2010. The economy is in recession, and our state budget is in perpetual crisis. Will people be willing to campaign hard for a measure to grant marriage rights, when we have so many other problems going on now? A constitutional amendment to repeal the two-thirds requirement to pass a state budget appears far more urgent at this moment.
A counter-argument is that 2012 will be worse – because activists will be busy trying to re-elect Barack Obama. But we had the same “problem” in 2008, and it’s simply untrue that Prop 8 passed because of the presidential election. There were plenty of volunteers who did not go to swing states, and were more than willing to help the campaign. If we hadn’t run such an awful field effort, that grassroots energy would have been put to use.
No, the bigger concern is if Obama would even be on our side in 2012 when he’s up for re-election – and we need his endorsement to repeal Prop 8. It was one thing for Obama to oppose Prop 8 last year – when he could just say it was “divisive and discriminatory.” Would he come out in favor of a proposition that restores marriage equality, given that his personal opinion is that marriage is between “a man and a woman”? That may be tricky.
Who Gets to Decide Anyway?
Marriage equality advocates I have spoken to are very torn about whether to go to the ballot in 2010 or 2012, and I have mixed feelings myself. Everyone is willing to work hard once the decision is made, but I’m unsure about who will be making that decision.
Yesterday, the Courage Campaign issued its “Four Principles for a United Movement” – as a foundation of a campaign to restore marriage equality in California. These are:
- Our campaign to win must begin now, regardless of when the movement decides to place a marriage equality initiative on the ballot.
- To unite the strength of activists across California, the campaign must be independent, accountable, and not dominated by any one organization.
- To gain the trust and full commitment of supporters, the campaign needs a representative and functional governance structure.
- Victory on election day requires a strong, experienced campaign manager who understands California politics and has won battles like this before. Our opposition is well organized, and we need exceptional leadership on our side to prevail.
I can’t disagree with any of these four principles – but I still don’t understand who “the movement” is, and how any “decision” can be binding on everyone in the movement.