Progress: What the 2012 election said about American attitudes

Election Day 2012 said a lot about the changing attitudes of the electorate. Voters agreed President Barack Obama was good for a second term and medical marijuana didn't seem all that bad. Monumentally, Americans voted on the side of marriage equality and even elected the nation’s first openly gay senator.

Tammy Baldwin’s win in Wisconsin was reported as one of the biggest elections of 2012 because of the message behind it. With so many initiatives and organizations mobilized, equal rights in America won big election night. But Jolie McKenna, executive director of the LGBT Center of Southeastern Wisconsin, said Baldwin’s sexual orientation shouldn’t matter.

“Much has been made of Tammy’s sexual orientation,” McKenna said. “But orientation is a minor incidental concern in contrast to legislative ability or success in garnering coalition, in the same way that Illinois Representative Tammy Duckworth’s prostheses do not affect her ability to legislate. In the LGBT community, we simply consider Tammy Baldwin to be a smart, effective, progressive legislator. Whom she decides to spend her time with is her own business.”

Baldwin’s replacement in the House of Representatives, Mark Pocan, is also gay and will be one of five other openly gay representatives.

In 2004, LGBT rights and marriage equality were effectively used to turn out conservative voters but in 2012 it is clear that the exact opposite has happened. In less than a decade, gay rights and marriage equality has instead become a rallying point for progressives, young Americans and even independents.

With five percent of the electorate, 6,043,599 lesbian, gay and bisexual people, voting in overall favor of the president with 76 percent of their votes, President Obama received 1,510,901 more LGB votes, nearly half of the entire popular vote margin between Obama and Mitt Romney.

Jennifer Psaki, Obama campaign spokeswoman, noted in an interview with Chicago’s Daily Herald that at many campaign events, Obama reminded voters of his support for gay causes. “You have a sitting president out there talking with great pride that he repealed ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ and supports how all couples should be together,” Psaki said. “It shows the tremendous amount of progress we made, and it shows the direction the country’s moving in.”

According to a ABC News-Washington Post poll, 51 percent of Americans now support gay marriage, a stark difference from just a few years ago. The shift in position on gay marriage is an indicator of changing political stances within the American electorate. The voting pool in America is becoming younger and more diverse, thus changing the general attitudes in regards to social issues and perceived social norms.

More than six in 10 young adults, and three out of four liberals are in favor of marriage equality, while two-thirds of senior citizens and 81 percent of "very conservative" respondents oppose gay marriage, according to ABC.

This was also the year that same-sex marriage was approved at the ballot box. Voters in Maine, Washington, and Maryland endorsed same-sex marriage. An initiative in Minnesota which would have banned same-sex marriage failed to pass.

In a survey, commissioned by the Human Rights Campaign and conducted by Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research, data showed that marriage equality supporters have more intensity than marriage equality opponents.

“Among supporters of marriage equality, 40 percent said the issue was important to them compared to 33 percent among opponents of marriage equality,” the survey said. There is also no evidence that the issue of gay marriage mobilized the Republican base as it had before in prior elections.

In fact, there are more Romney voters that support marriage equality (27 percent) than Obama voters that oppose marriage equality (18 percent)

The national the majority of supporters of marriage equality can be broken down into these groups:

Consistent with pre-election surveys, half of 2012 voters favor marriage equality, 71 percent of those being Democrats, 53 percent Independents, 55 percent of African Americans and 58 percent of Latinos.

Along with changing attitudes, money didn’t hurt either. “We had success across the board and across the country,” Chad Griffin, the president of the Human Rights Campaign, said. The Human Rights Campaign, or HCR, raised millions of dollars in order to campaign this 2012 election cycle. “It truly was a milestone year,” he said.

(EdgeontheNet.com: Top 4 next likely states to approve same-sex marriage)

Jeff Bezos, Amazon’s billionaire founder, wrote the $2.5 million check in support of Washington’s gay-marriage effort. Bezos’ donation is likely the biggest single donation in the history of dozens of gay-marriage ballot initiatives. Along with Microsoft founder Bill Gates and chief executive Steve Ballmer’s $600,000 each, marriage proponents were able to run an effective campaign in their state.

Unlike most years passed, the money spent this year was tremendously skewed in favor of advocates of same-sex marriage. HRC reports that in the Washington state race, gay rights organizations poured in nearly $12 million, while advocates of traditional marriage spent $3 million. HRC and the National Organization for Marriage, or NOM, spent the most money. The Catholic Church also contributed large sums of money to prevent same-sex couples from being able to marry.

(Boston.com: Roman Catholic Church spent $2 million to defeat marriage equality)

Aside from the money and the politics involved in the equal rights movement, observers are noticing the plain business sense. Deena Fidas, a deputy director for HRC, said businesses increasingly see gay rights as key to hiring and keeping talented and qualified employees. What many don’t know is that companies often struggle with moving workers who have a same-sex partner, because of the vastly different states tax policies and parental rights for gay couples.

The findings are part of HCR's Corporate Equality Index, which rates 889 companies – including all Fortune 500 firms – based on how hospitable their workplace policies, benefits and practices are for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender employees.

A record 252 businesses achieved the top rating in HRC’s 2013 Corporate Equality Index of 100 percent this year, which rates on how hospitable their workplace policies, benefits and practices are for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender employees. The technology, banking and legal sectors especially achieved high scores, while the oil and gas industries lagged behind.

Along with that, since the index was launched in 2002, a majority of Fortune 500 companies incorporated both sexual orientation and gender identity into their non-discrimination policies for the very first time.

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