Friday, February 8, 2008

Why exit polls identifying LGB voters are important

After telling all of you about the existence of exit polling data on lesbian, gay and bisexual voters in Tuesday’s Democratic Primaries in New York and California, I had several people question why I said exit polls should always be asking the LGB question.

Folks, did you know we’re practically invisible as a community?

Yes I know we’re “everywhere” and that there are plenty of anecdotes about how many of us there are (mainly wrong), but I feel obligated to let you know about something.

Demographically speaking -- we don't exist. I never knew how much this hurts us until I began working at the Pride Agenda.

Just so you know, in our government data helps drive policy and policy drives the distribution of benefits and services. When government -- and this is true for both Washington and Albany -- has no data on a community or the issues a community faces that community gets left out of the many programs that use data-driven formulas to provide services. And these programs are funded by billions of dollars here in New York and hundreds of billions in Washington.

Ever wonder why the conservative right doesn't want government agencies asking questions about sexual orientation or gender identity and expression when assessing and evaluating the needs of the American people?

Not having data on us keeps us invisible to government and that's exactly what our opponents want. Having real data makes it more difficult for government to ignore us or to withhold access to programs and services it has in place to address the needs of Americans. The many health and social welfare programs that target specific population segments is just one example of what I'm talking about.

It’s exactly the same in politics and elections. When elected officials have no idea about the size of our community or how many of us vote (potentially for them), they tend to forget about us or relegate our concerns to the summer intern.

On the other hand, they do have a good idea about the religion, ethnicity, age, income levels and property tax assessments, and so on and so on of the people in their districts because the Census and a host of other government entities gather this data and make it public. Political parties and special interest groups then feed it into their computers and spit it out by legislative district. Having this information about the makeup of an election district, such as an Assembly or State Senate district, plays a big role in determining which issues elected officials focus on and which ones they don’t.

Since there are zero instances where government gathers data on gay people -- except for a roundabout way in the Census and that only gets at those of us who are coupled and living together -- we get left out.

That’s why exit polls asking voters to identify their sexual orientation are so important. Until government starts asking about us instead of pretending we don't exist, election day exit polls are the only tool out there that provide any real clues about how many of us there are as a percentage of the entire population (and to politicians about how many of us are a position to vote them in or out of office).

The exit poll done here in New York on Tuesday showed that seven percent of Democrats voting on Tuesday are LGB. That’s a big block of voters, one that can make the difference between a candidate winning or losing in a close election. We're also a block that politicians in New York can't ignore, which means we can have the uncanny effect of getting them to focus better when we talk to them about what's important to us.

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