Stein’s early assessment suggests that Republicans came out by as much as a three-to-one margin against the proposition, and Blacks by as much as two-to-one against it. If both oppose the measure by those margins, high turnout among both groups may have contributed to the proposal’s downfall.
Why the opposition?
To start, as Next America’s Ron Brownstein noted recently in a demographic breakdown of who does and does not support same-sex marriage on the national level, support has crossed the 50 percent threshold for most groups. But not for African-Americans, people 65 and older, Southerners, and Republicans. At least a couple of those subgroups appear to have played a critical role in opposing the anti-discrimination measure, which centered around protections for LGBTQ people.
While Stein noted higher-than-normal turnout among Blacks and Republicans, turnout in off-year elections is generally low. Early figures show that just slightly more than a quarter of Houston’s registered voters actually weighed in. Young people, who are more likely than their older peers to support equal rights and protections for the LGBTQ community, are among the least likely to vote. It’s very likely that older voters also played a role in successfully opposing the initiative.
Messaging, Stein said, also likely played a critical role. The actual language of the proposal was broad and in fact had been passed by the city council earlier this year before a court battle ultimately placed it on the ballot. It read:
Are you in favor of the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance, Ord. No. 2014-530, which prohibits discrimination in city employment and city services, city contracts, public accommodations, private employment, and housing based on an individual’s sex, race, color, ethnicity, national origin, age, familial status, marital status, military status, religion, disability, sexual orientation, genetic information, gender identity, or pregnancy?
But opponents, both local and national, launched a messaging campaign that cast the measure as one that would allow men dressed as women to attack women in restrooms.
“It was about protecting our grandmoms, and our mothers, and our wives, and our sisters, and our daughters, and our granddaughters,” Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick said on election night. While there was never substantial evidence to indicate such fear was warranted, the tactic, labeled fearmongering by proponents of the measure, may have drummed up opposition.
In tests of three different messaging tactics, Stein found that Patrick’s messaging strategy, that women were in danger, was particularly effective in swaying Black women. That’s important, he pointed out, because most Black voters (more than 60 percent) are women.
The messaging strategy proponents used—that all people deserve equal protection—did not prove effective, Stein said. The economic argument—that a failure to pass such a protective measure might deter companies and organizations like the NFL (the city is set to host the Super Bowl in 2017) from hosting events in Houston—did actually prove effective. But, as Stein pointed out, proponents did not really make that argument until it was too late. Opponents waged a much better messaging campaign.