It was no secret during past decades of ballot-box pummeling that social connections help determine where people stand on LGBT rights, say the organizers behind November 6′s same-sex marriage wins in Maine, Maryland, Minnesota, and Washington. They knew the public-opinion polls. Simply having a gay family member, friend, or colleague doubles the likelihood of support.
“The meta narrative,” says Michael Cole-Schwartz, director of media efforts for the Human Rights Campaign, “is that we win these fights because Americans know that LGBT people are their neighbors, their cousins, their aunts and uncles, the people they sit next to in church, and the people they shop with at the grocery store.” More than that, experience told them that personal conversations on or around the significance of marriage were especially persuasive. And that stayed true when those talks happened between straight people, like the conversations with his daughters Sasha and Malia that were said to change President Obama’s thinking.
But there was still a conundrum, and it had to do with amplification, explains Cole-Schwartz: “How do we get these conversations that happen naturally to happen more often?” It’s a political challenge not limited to the question of LGBT issues. In their groundbreaking 2004 book Get Out the Vote!, Yale political scientists Alan S. Gerber and Donald P. Green wrote that “the more personal the interaction, the harder it is to reproduce on a large scale.”
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