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Sunday, November 09, 2003

Sex and the 2004 Election

I just finished the September / October 2003 issue of the Utne Magazine and was taken by an argument in "How Sex Rocks the Vote" by Anne Geske an Utne intern.

Here are the most interesting paragraphs.
today there is a more reliable predictor of people's political allegiances than their pocketbooks: where they stand on sexual issues.

Dick Morris and Mark Penn, advisers to Bill Clinton during the 1996 election campaign, came up with a polling technique that produced consistent results: The more liberal a person was on sexual attitudes, the more likely the person was to vote Democrat. Conversely, the likelihood a person would vote Republican rose in direct proportion to how conservative his or her attitudes were toward sex.

A map showing percentages of adult movies in the home-video market by state "bore an eerie resemblance" to the 2000 election results, remarked former Delaware governor Pete du Pont in a recent Wall Street Journal Web site column.
There's also a human rights dimension to the argument. Geske cites some kind of survey conducted by the Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States that
found that the vast majority of states that voted for George W. Bush are states that are less responsive to issues of sexual rights and sexual health. Criteria used in this survey included the right to engage in sexual behavior in private, the right to express one's sexual orientation, and the right to sexual information and health services.
This actually got me thinking of another related point. Locally, I've read a number of articles lately about the so-called "brain drain" as bright students and young adults from Louisville go elsewhere for college. The community is trying to figure out ways to reverse this trend.

There's some recent academic work suggesting that the "brain drain" problem is at least partly sex/tolerance-related. Academic Richard Florida recently published a book Rise of the Creative Class that directly addresses migration of young, talented workers -- and links sex/tolerance to economic vitality of cities. While I haven't read it, there were a couple of related articles I did read in the Washington Monthly and in Governing.

Put simply, Florida argues that creative people migrate from intolerant places (many red states on the 2000 electoral map) to more tolerant places (especially "hip" urban areas in the blue states on the 2000 electoral map). Gay rights is one key indicator of tolerance. This is from Florida's WM article:
Talented people seek an environment open to differences. Many highly creative people, regardless of ethnic background or sexual orientation, grew up feeling like outsiders, different in some way from most of their schoolmates. When they are sizing up a new company and community, acceptance of diversity and of gays in particular is a sign that reads "non-standard people welcome here."
Here's an interesting excerpt from the Governing article by Christopher Swope:
Florida doesn't argue that homosexuals are more creative than heterosexuals. And he's not saying that gays are the secret of urban salvation. But he does make the case that in today's knowledge economy, where younger people especially jump from job to job and move from city to city, the cultural attributes of place matter more than the old virtues of corporate loyalty.

And one of the many things the creative class looks for in a place to live, the argument goes, is tolerance, not just toward gays but toward people who have purple hair, wear nose rings or are culturally distinctive in almost any way at all.

As Richard Florida sees it, the number of gays in a community is a proxy for tolerance. Gays may therefore serve as a bellwether of a city's economic fortunes. "Homosexuality represents the last frontier of diversity in our society, and thus a place that welcomes the gay community welcomes all kinds of people," Florida writes. "Openness to the gay community is a good indicator of the low entry barriers to human capital that are so important to spurring creativity and generating high-tech growth."
Louisville, for example, was #45 of 49 cities ranked in Florida's "creativity rankings" for large cities.

In any case, some of the articles on Florida's book-related website suggest that lots of cities (like Pittsburgh and Cincinnati) are explicitly changing their laws regarding gay rights in hopes of attracting wealthy young gays and other "hip" youth. They are trying to reverse old migration patterns.

Personally, I wonder if part of the red/blue geographic split already strongly reflects past migration. The solid Bush states across the South and from the prairies to the Rockies have perhaps lost a large proportion of their youth to NY, Chicago, SF and other "hip" cities. That makes it hard for Democrats to win in those states.

Of course, Bush's winning states saw their populations increase between 1990 to 2000, reflecting the Souths' ability to attract business. That makes it easier for Republicans to win. And it gives Bush 7 bonus Electoral College votes in 2004, if all else remains equal.

If legal tolerance spreads -- businesses are competing for the tolerant youth and often want cities to pass gay rights measures -- and as "hip" places pop up in the South (Florida mentions Austin and the NC research triangle), voting patterns might also change.

It's interesting food for thought and raises important political questions:

Could the key to future elections depend upon young gays remaining in their local communities?

Does this mean that apparent Republican plans to use gay marriage as a wedge election issue could backfire in key ("swing") tolerant states? I'm thinking of Iowa, Florida, New Hampshire, and perhaps Pennslyvania, Ohio and Indiana (Florida's articles emphasize how cities in these three states are overtly trying to become "hip" and tolerant).

Does this give a whole new meaning to the Republicans' "southern strategy?"

Update: I also posted this entry to my diary at the Daily KOS. Since that blog allows comments (registration required), this is a chance to see whether my readers want me to create a more public feedback option. I get a few pieces of email per week, but nobody has indicated a desire for public comments.

For now, I'll let readers know if an entry is also going to be posted to Daily Kos. This was only my second attempt. The first was "Let the Reframing Begin: Anti-Terrorism Strategy," posted on October 29. It's still there if you want to comment on that one.

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