Many Democratic presidential candidates have released extensive and detailed plans for addressing LGBTQ equality over the course of the campaign cycle. On Super Tuesday, LGBTQ voters rewarded that work by turning out in record numbers.
Nearly one in 10 voters on Tuesday identified as lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender, according to exit poll data from NBC News. That turnout was up from the 2018 midterms, when 6 percent of the electorate identified as LGBTQ.
“All of the data from this year’s presidential primary, the 2018 midterms, and the 2016 presidential election shows the LGBTQ voting bloc is growing and that LGBTQ voters are difference-makers and a constituency to court,” Geoff Wetrosky, a campaign director at the Human Rights Campaign, told Vox. “We turn out at rates much higher than the general public, and we overwhelmingly support pro-equality candidates.”
There are several potential reasons for increased LGBTQ turnout this year. People may be more willing to identify themselves as queer to exit pollsters, for instance, or to publicly label themselves as LGBTQ in general. According to a 2018 Gallup report, about 4.5 percent of the total population identifies as LGBTQ, up from 3.5 percent in 2012.
Voters identifying as LGBTQ in the first wave #SuperTuesday exit polls:
— Michael Del Moro (@MikeDelMoro) March 3, 2020
Wetrosky notes that the jump in turnout over the last two years could also be a result of the White House’s anti-LGBTQ agenda.
Since President Donald Trump took office in 2017, his administration has: banned trans troops from serving in the military; petitioned the Supreme Court to roll back employment protections for LGBTQ workers under Title VII; proposed a rule to allow federal contractors to discriminate against LGBTQ employees; proposed a rule to undo Affordable Care Act nondiscrimination protections for trans patients; allowed federally funded shelters to bar trans people from facilities consistent with their gender identity; and required prisons to house trans prisoners according to their assigned sex at birth.
“The fate of LGBTQ people and our rights have been on the ballot for decades, compelling us to register to vote and participate in politics, as opposed to letting others decide our rights for us,” Wetrosky said.
Whether a result of more people identifying as LGBTQ, efforts to increase turnout, or a response to Trump’s anti-LGBTQ policies — or, more likely, some combination of all three — it’s clear that queer voters have created a consistent voting bloc. And politicians tend to listen to people who vote.
LGBTQ voters tend to skew more liberal
It’s no surprise that queer voters skewed to the left on Super Tuesday, with 50 percent calling themselves “very liberal” and 30 percent labeling themselves “somewhat liberal,” according to NBC News exit polls. Just 4 percent of LGBTQ Democratic voters identified themselves as “conservative.”
As a result, almost 40 percent backed Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, with 21 percent going for Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren and 19 percent voting for former Vice President Joe Biden, NBC News reported late Tuesday.
Historically, LGBTQ voters tend to lean more liberal, for obvious reasons such as the Republican opposition to marriage equality and hands-off handling of the AIDS crisis. In 2016, 78 percent of queer voters voted for Hillary Clinton versus 14 percent for Trump, whose performance with LGBTQ voters was lower than every previous Republican candidate since polls first began tracking LGBTQ voter data.
That pattern repeated itself in the 2018 midterms, with 82 percent of LGBTQ voters voting for Democratic candidates for the US House of Representatives and 17 percent voting for Republicans.
By consistently coming out to vote in each election, queer voters force politicians to take their needs and concerns seriously, and that’s likely why this primary season saw so many Democratic candidates offering very detailed plans for LGBTQ equality. Many included basic protections like passing the Equality Act, which would give LGBTQ people comprehensive civil rights protections under federal law for the first time.
But many of those plans also pushed the envelope in ways we haven’t seen previously. Each of the major Democratic candidates this year, except for former New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg, backed gender-neutral passports. Many firmly denounced the violence faced by Black and other trans women of color.
Though relatively small in population numbers (but not insignificant in turnout), LGBTQ people have become one of the most reliable Democratic voting blocs, and reliable electoral turnout helps queer people build real political power over the long term.
LGBTQ get-out-the-vote campaigns are increasingly focusing on turning out allies
Organizers realize, though, that being a relatively small portion of the general population means LGBTQ voters as a group have a ceiling. The next step for organizations devoted to turning out the queer vote is to turn out allies who care about LGBTQ people and the issues they face
“Support for LGBTQ equality has increased tremendously in recent years across partisan, ideological, and demographic groups,” said Wetrosky. “This broad and increasing support means the LGBTQ movement is no longer limited to organizing and mobilizing self-identified LGBTQ people. With all of this in mind, HRC recognized that we could maximize the LGBTQ community’s impact on elections by mobilizing our allies who would support pro-equality candidates, but [who] are less likely to turn out.”
That’s why the Human Rights Campaign began working with data analytics firm Catalist in 2016 to identify 57 million “equality voters” who care deeply about LGBTQ equality.
According to HRC data, “equality voters” constituted 29 percent of the total 2018 electorate. In the 2016 general election, 29 percent of identified “equality voters” voted; that number jumped to 56 percent in the 2018 midterms.
HRC used the “equality voter” model to shape a larger get-out-the-vote effort in Virginia’s state elections last year. Nine of its top 10 targeted seats in the state were won by HRC-backed candidates, helping Democrats flip control of both chambers of the Virginia legislature. Last month, the new Democratic majority passed comprehensive LGBTQ protections for the first time in the state’s history.
LGBTQ voters and allies will continue to play a key role in what is now a two-person race between Sanders and Biden for the Democratic nomination. It remains to be seen whether LGBTQ people who supported more progressive candidates like Sanders and Warren will turn out to support a potential Biden candidacy in the general election.
But with so much at stake for the LGBTQ community — from civil rights protections to the future of the judiciary — queer people and their allies are needed to turn out for a better and safer future.