In 2013, Utah will be the second to last Western state to vote down a gay marriage ban.
It will be preceded by Nevada (2009), Colorado, Montana (2010), Arizona, Idaho and Wyoming (2011). New Mexico’s voters will turn against such a ban in 2014.
At least, according to FiveThirtyEight.com, a Web site that gathers and analyzes political data to give readers “the best possible objective assessment of the likely outcome” of election and voting results. The site, founded in 2008 and named for the number of electors in the electoral college, accurately predicted election results in nearly every county across the country.
Site owner and researcher Nate Silver made the post about gay marriage on April 3, the same day the Iowa Supreme Court struck down the state’s ban on the practice. He noted that Iowa voters would not be able to weigh in on a constitutional gay marriage ban until 2012 due to the need for two consecutive legislative sessions to approve a constitutional amendment.
“This is good news for defenders of marriage equity, because while you might know it from Proposition 8’s victory last year, voter initiatives to ban gay marriage are becoming harder and harder to pass every year,” Silver wrote.
Silver wrote that he had studied 30 attempts by states to pass constitutional gay marriage bans (including Arizona’s attempts to do so in 2006 and 2008). He then attempted to predict the percentage of voters who would favor the amendment based on a number of variables.
“It turns out that you can build a very effective model by including just three variables,” wrote Silver: the year the amendment appeared on the ballot, the percentage of adults who identified religion as an important part of their life; and the percentage of white evangelical Christians in the individual state. The more a state’s population identified with being religious, Silver wrote, the more likely its voters were to ban gay marriage— particularly in states with a large percentage of white evangelicals.
Other variables such as voter age, race and party affiliation were negligible, said Silver.
”These variables collectively account for about three-quarters of the variance in the performance of marriage bans in different states,” wrote Silver, noting that the model showed that a gay marriage ban in California in 2008 would have passed by 52.1 percent of the vote. Proposition 8, the ban in question, was approved by exactly that number on Nov. 4.
Silver added, however, that gay marriage bans were “losing ground” by about two points each year. In other words, if a state passed a marriage ban with 70 percent of the vote in 2008, it would have passed in 2009 with only 68 percent of voter support.
Commenters to the blog post, however, raised an important question: How had Silver factored in Mormons, who outweigh evangelicals in Utah and in parts of Idaho?
“Nate, does your model count Mormons as “evangelicals,” or otherwise adjust for them?” asked commenter “Eugenian.”
“I can’t possibly imagine that Utah wouldn’t be the one of the last, if not THE last, state to finally allow gay marriage,” wrote commenter “markdash.” “They may not have a high level of “evangelicals,” assuming Mormons aren’t counted in this lot, but that particular Christian sect is extremely gung-ho about denying gays the right to marry.”
The LDS Church received nationwide attention in 2008 when leaders called on California Mormons to support efforts to pass an amendment that would re-ban gay marriage in the state. Overall, Mormons contributed over $20 million to pro-Proposition 8 efforts.
The state of California is currently investigating the LDS Church on the charge that leaders did not disclose non-financial contributions to these efforts.
Silver did not reply to these comments or clarify the post to explain how — or if — he had factored Mormons into his predictions. He had not answered a request by QSaltLake for clarification by press time.
Based on conversations with Utahns who brought the post to his attention, Will Carlson, Public Policy Manager for statewide gay rights group Equality Utah, said he was “very confident” that Silver had not included Mormons in his calculations.
“I think he was trying to set up something that was a national formula,” noted Carlson, who added that he agreed “with [the post’s] ultimate conclusion, but might dispute where Utah falls on that scale.”
Still, Carlson said that the trend towards more acceptance of gay marriage was “good news.”
“I’d love to believe [the prediction],” he said.