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Gay & Lesbian Voters to be Crucial
in November's Election


Illinois, Michigan, New Jersey, Ohio & Pennsylvania Count

Virginia Apuzzo, Former Assistant to President, Speaks Out


By Virginia M. Apuzzo

gayvote.gif - 4.07 K The year 2000 is the type of election that comes along once in a generation -- an election which, for better or worse, dramatically changes our political landscape. It is not unlike John F. Kennedy's "passing of the torch to a new generation" in 1960 or Ronald Reagan's pledge to "make America strong again" in 1980.

This year's election may well be a generational election because of everything it portends: Control of Congress, control of the White House and the Supreme Court appointments that will follow, and control of state legislatures throughout the country that will redraw state and Congressional boundaries for the next decade. It is abundantly clear, then, that the fallout from this election will remain with us for a generation to come.

So what are we in the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered (GLBT) community in a position to do about it?

Political pundits argue that control of the White House and Congress could depend on what happens in five key, urban, industrialized states: Illinois, Michigan, New Jersey, Ohio and Pennsylvania. Each of these states has two things in common: the two parties are in close competition, and the gay, lesbian and bisexual (GLB) electorate (unfortunately, exit polls still don't measure transgendered voters) is potentially huge.

Today's GLBT movement has something that it lacked in previous elections in 1980, 1984 or 1988: We have political infrastructure on the ground. We now have GLBT groups in every state in the country and in hundreds of towns and cities as well.

This local political infrastructure can serve as an organizing force to register GLB voters and propel them to the polls. An analysis of our potential voting strength demonstrates the impact we could have on close races up and down the ballot.

We know roughly how many GLB voters live in large cities, mid-sized cities, suburbs and rural areas. We also can measure the differences in voter turnout between urban and non-urban voters.

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Therefore, we can make certain assumptions about the potential size of the GLB voting block in the five key states of Illinois, Michigan, New Jersey, Ohio and Pennsylvania.

We know, for instance, that GLB voters tend to make up about 9 percent of the electorate in large cities (populations of 500,000 or more), 7 percent of the electorate in mid-sized cities (population 50,000 to 500,000), 3.7 percent in suburbs and 2.3 percent in rural areas.

Looking at the unique demographic patterns of each state as well as average turnout rates for the past two federal elections, we conservatively estimate that at least 900,000 GLB voters will go to the polls in the five swing states.

Consider the impact of a strong GLBT voter turnout:

  • In Illinois, based on recent turnout patterns, we project that the likely GLB turnout in the November elections will be about 230,000. In the closely contested 1976 presidential election, only 92,974 votes separated the two major party presidential candidates. In the dramatic 1960 election, only 8,858 votes separated the two candidates. It is clear, then, that the GLB voting block will be larger than the margin of victory in the 1960 and 1976 elections (and even larger than 1988, when Vice President George Bush defeated Michael Dukakis by 94,999 votes).

  • In Michigan, we project that the likely GLB vote will be about 173,000. That is larger than the margin of victory in 1960 (66,841 votes) and approaches the margin of victory in 1976 (197,000 votes).

  • In New Jersey, we project a GLB turnout of about 114,000. That is larger than the margin of victory in the 1960, 1968, 1976 and 1992 presidential elections.

  • In Ohio, we project a GLB turnout of 190,000; that is more than double the margin of victories in the 1968, 1976 and 1992 presidential elections.

  • In Pennsylvania, we project a GLB turnout of 207,000 voters, larger than the margin of victories in 1960, 1968, 1976 and 1988.

    These figures confirm what we in the GLBT community already know: we have formidable power and a real potential to create change this November.
    Virginia Apuzzo served as the Assistant to the President for Administration and Management from 1997 to 1999. She was the highest-ranking gay or lesbian official in the White House. Today, Apuzzo fills the Virginia Apuzzo Chair for Leadership in Public Policy at the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force Policy Institute.

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