As soon as President Obama announced his newly evolved position in support of marriage equality, the race was on to predict the political repercussions. It would hurt him in swing states, with independents, Hispanics, and African Americans. Or maybe it would help Mitt Romney, unifying conservative opposition. No one seemed to think it would work to the President’s advantage. Based on polling done before and immediately after the announcement, these assessments all managed to miss the point entirely.
Don’t misunderstand, I’m not remotely suggesting Obama’s decision to state his support, for same sex marriage, and its timing, were made without consideration of the political implications. He’s a politician, failure to do so would suggest incompetence, not some sort of moral purity. But this wasn’t about short term gain, an immediate surge in polling. Though the fundraising bumpwas surely nice. Obama’s playing a longer game here. He’ll be reaping the benefits until election day.
His 2008 victory wouldn’t have happened without the excitement he generated among progressives and young voters. They didn’t just give him their votes, they spent untold hours volunteering,and persuading their friends and families to give him a chance. The repeated small donations they tended to make didn’t hurt either. Getting them back on board was crucial to making his reelection reality, and not at all a given.
Progressives had arguably unrealistic expectations for Obama’s presidency. He didn’t campaign as one of them, yet they assumed his agenda overlapped with theirs almost entirely. So when he let the public option die, or signed the NDAA, their disappointment was beyond all reason. There’s been a small contingency, coming from the Occupy movement, and presumably made up of people to young to remember the 2000 election, talking about voting for third party candidates as a means of teaching the Democratic party some kind of a lesson, or because there’s no real difference between it and the GOP, or between Obama and Romney. As so often happens with the Occupiers, the reasoning’s not quite clear. But for the most part, progressives hadn’t so much been considering voting for anyone else, as just sitting this one out. Or maybe giving Obama their votes, and nothing else, neither money nor free labor. Obama’s support for marriage equality gives them something they’ve been wanting for a good long while, and creates a glaringly obvious difference between himself and Mittens. It gives them a reason to fall back in love with him, repeat their 2008 effort on his behalf.
Young voters had shared some if Progressives’ disappointment, but more than that, they’d just lost interest in him. As a rule, presidential campaigns are more exciting than actual presidencies. Obama’s has been no exception. People born in 1982 or later, also known as millenials, strongly support marriage equality. By following their lead, Obama’s gotten them excited and engaged again. He’s made his reelection as important to them as the first one was, winning back their time, money, and votes.
Historically, a focus on social issues has tended to benefit Republican candidates. By forcing Romney to reiterate his unpopular opposition to same sex marriage, Obama is calling attention to the disconnect between the American electorate at large, and the conservative extremists who drive so many of the GOP’s positions. Romney can choose between swinging back towards the more moderate approach to LGBT rights he used to take, thereby further alienating his party’s base, and staying where he is now, alienating everyone else. I’m guessing he’ll go with the latter. Whatever will he do with himself, come November seventh? It’s been a long time since he’s had a real job, I hope his interview skills aren’t too rusty.