Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Why George Allen's Senate Race is Close

The Washington Post reports this morning that Virginia's proposed constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage looks likely to win statewide approval. And their indication of how different the view is in Northern Virginia from the rest of the state shows clearly why George Allen's Senate race is so close.

53% of Voters Say They Back Va. Same-Sex Marriage Ban
Only Area Against Measure Is N.Va., According to Poll
By Chris L. Jenkins
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, October 17, 2006; A01

A majority of Virginians support a proposed constitutional amendment that would ban same-sex marriage and civil unions, although voters split on the measure when presented with interpretations of its potential impact, according to a new Washington Post poll.

Fifty-three percent of likely voters said they would vote for the amendment, and 43 percent would oppose it, the poll found, indicating that three weeks before Election Day opponents still have a long way to go to make Virginia the first state in the country to defeat a same-sex marriage amendment.

The only part of the state to oppose the measure was Northern Virginia, where voters rejected it 55 percent to 42 percent, further evidence that the Washington suburbs have become a political and social world apart from the rest of Virginia. Respondents in the rest of the state backed the measure 58 percent to 38 percent, according to the survey, conducted over three days last week.

Despite the overall results, the poll provided some hope for opponents of the measure. Their chief argument is that the language of the amendment is too broad and would endanger contracts between unwed heterosexual couples. Supporters contend that the measure is limited to declaring that same-sex marriages would never be approved or recognized in Virginia.

When respondents were read the arguments on both sides of the question, enough voters showed a willingness to reconsider that the gap narrowed to a virtual tie -- 48 percent said they supported the measure and 47 percent opposed it, within the poll's margin of error of three percentage points...

Several political scientists who have studied state ballot measures said the polling data from Virginia appeared to defy expectations, given the commonwealth's reputation as a conservative state.

"This is quite a surprise," said Daniel A. Smith, an associate professor of political science at the University of Florida. "In an ostensibly conservative state like Virginia, you'd expect to see the numbers up around 60 or 70 percent."

The lower numbers in Virginia reflect a national trend of weakening support for state efforts to ban same-sex marriage, several experts said. Twenty states have passed similar measures since 1998, many with about 75 percent support. The lowest level of support an amendment received was 57 percent in Oregon in 2004.

But this year, poll results in several states with similar ballot measures show weaker support than in 2004, when 11 states passed constitutional amendments. Polls in Colorado and Wisconsin show results similar to Virginia's; poll results in South Dakota are mixed...

Among those who said they would vote for Democrat James Webb for U.S. Senate, 67 percent opposed the measure and 31 percent supported it. Allen favors the amendment, and Webb is opposed because he thinks the language goes beyond prohibiting same-sex marriage. Webb believes marriage is between one man and one woman.

The only group to significantly cross party lines was blacks. In the poll, blacks supported Webb by 81 percent to 11 percent, but they favored the amendment 61 percent to 34 percent. "I don't believe in gay relationships; I just don't believe that they are right," said Aaron Moore, 26, from Chesapeake, who added that he follows the Pentecostal faith and will vote for Webb. "Even though I'm a Democrat, it's just something that I disagree with most Democrats on."

Whites supported the measure 51 percent to 45 percent, the poll found...

The full poll data is here. It shows Allen leading Webb by a margin of 49-47%. I don't see the methodology for the poll, so I can't tell how many Republicans and how many Democrats were sampled.

Further, I am not sure how the poll defines 'Northern Virginia.' But if you consider Northern Virginia to consist of Arlington, Fairfax, Prince William and Loudon counties, as well as Alexandria and Fairfax cities, then it comprises slightly under 2 million of Virginia's population of 7.6 million. And the region is growing like crazy, and is considerably more liberal than the rest of the state.

And a ban on gay marriage is supported 58-38% through most of the state, and opposed in Northern Virginia 55-42%. If you needed any indication of why GOP candidates are no longer sure-fire winners, you have it here.

They say that grography is destiny. In California, the state traditionally had a Senator from the Bay Area, and a Senator from the South. In Pennsylvania, races cut along Pittsburgh/Philadelphia lines. In New York, former mayors of New York City do not win statewide races. And perhaps most famously, Democrats do best when they nominate conservative Southern Governors for the Presidency.

Well, since geography is destiny in Virginia as well, the GOP in Virginia will soon do best when it nominates Northern Virginia moderates for statewide office. We won't see that many more Senators like George Allen, and will instead see Senators like Tom Davis.

Back to the top.


Anonymous said...

Virginia is changing and that certainly is the biggest factor. However, the long period of time that the marriage amendment has taken to make it to the ballot has also given opponents a chance to make the case against the amendment that peole who might not support gay marriage would agree with (i.e. to broad).

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