During the last year, political pundits have spent a great deal of time discussing American Jews' growing support for President Bush and the Republican Party. In particular, writers at the Weekly Standard and National Review have written at length about how Republicans are wooing traditional Democratic Jews into the conservative fold. Most agree that the shift can be attributed to Jews' support for the Bush Doctrine, especially as it applies to the current Arab-Israeli conflict. But there is another significant political shift that has been largely ignored by most analysts — the rightward shift of American gays.
During the 1992 presidential campaign, there was open acrimony between gay voters and the Republican Party. Some of these hard feelings stemmed from the liberal press' distortion of Patrick Buchanan's famous "culture war" convention speech. In that speech, Buchanan mentioned gay rights two times - first, when he referenced that the Democratic Party would not permit pro-life Governor Robert Casey to address delegates at their convention, but would allow "a militant leader of the homosexual rights movement" to speak, and second, when he announced his opposition to state-sanctioned gay marriage.
While the latter reference ruffled the feathers of some gays, it was hardly a call for jihad by the Republican Party (especially since the Democratic Party had also adopted an anti-gay marriage position). Nonetheless, the press - along with militant leftist gay leaders — was able to scare mainstream gays into believing that a second Krystallnacht was right around the corner if President George H.W. Bush were re-elected.
In 1996, Republican Presidential Candidate Bob Dole returned a $1000 check that his campaign had received from the openly gay Log Cabin Republicans. Apparently, he thought that such an action would solidify his support among some socially conservative Republican voters. The strategy backfired and little came of the entire affair, other than some unnecessary bad press.
By the 2000 campaign, gay rights issues were not discussed by the two major parties because each had virtually identical positions. Both Al Gore and George Bush endorsed the Defense of Marriage Act and Dick Cheney and Joe Lieberman voiced opposition to discrimination against gays in the workplace.
Despite the difference in tenor of the 1992, 1996, and 2000 presidential campaigns, the proportion of self-identified gays voting for Republicans has steadily increased. Self-identified gays have represented between 4% to 5% of all voters during the last four election cycles, a proportion double that of American Jews. In 1998, 4.2% of voters were self-identified gays (a figure likely to be understated due to the personal nature of one's sexual orientation) while 2.6% of voters were Jews.
In 1992, 23% of gays voted for the Republican candidate for the House of Representatives. That figure increased to 26% in 1994, 28% in 1996, and 33% in 1998. In 2000, over one-fourth of all self-identified gays voted for an unabashed economic and social conservative, George W. Bush. Though no polls have been released since September 11, there is anecdotal evidence suggesting that gays are extremely supportive of the war on terrorism and are identifying more with center-right politicians than the usual neo-socialist busybodies offered by the Democrats.
Why are gays marching rightward in their political affiliations? Four key explanations come to mind:
(1) Greater understanding of the role of free markets in curing AIDS.
Recent technological advancements in medicine have resulted in the development of cocktail drugs that have increased both the life expectancy and quality of life of individuals living with AIDS. These drugs have been especially beneficial to American gays, who have higher rates of HIV infection than other demographic groups. Gays understand that the primary reason why these drugs are now available is the existence of our free market economy.
In a free market, a private pharmaceutical firm has a profit-incentive to develop an AIDS drug if there is consumer demand for that product. This is precisely what we observed in the 1990s. Firms were willing to invest in these life-saving drugs knowing that they would have the opportunity to earn a profit from their sales.
Today, there are radical gay leftists who wish to remove these incentives. Jon Bell, from Act-Up Philadelphia, recently summed up this position:
"All but the wealthiest will continue to have no access to life-saving medicine. The only acceptable plan from industry will guarantee affordability through cuts of 95% or more of the prices we pay."
If Mr. Bell were to get his wish, pharmaceutical companies would have little or no incentive to invent drugs that could improve the lives of people with AIDS. Though he may believe that his heart is in the right place, the policies he advocates would result in more misery and higher death rates.
American gays are turning away from the harmful, radical health policies advocated by Act-Up because they increasingly understand that the free market is the best hope for the creation of life-saving AIDS drugs. To that end, many gays are throwing their support to the Republican Party because the political right does a better job than the left at protecting the market from government intrusion.
(2) Admiration for President Bush's moral clarity in the war on terrorism.
Leftists have long been blaming America for every social and political ill on the face of the earth. Prior to September 11, organizations like the Human Rights Commission (HRC) and the Gay and Lesbian Association Against Defamation (GLAAD) missed no opportunity to whine about the so-called "oppression" of gays in America. They rarely, if ever, spoke of the savage individual rights violations that gays face in the Middle East. Most Arab countries imprison or execute individuals if they are suspected to have engaged in homosexual activity.
In Afghanistan, the Taliban government sanctioned that suspected gays be thrown off of mountaintops or crushed under stone walls. In Egypt, gays are routinely imprisoned, tortured, and killed. After a recent show trial in Saudi Arabia, three gays were beheaded after being charged with "immorality."
What has the HRC and GLADD said about these atrocities? Almost nothing. In fact, many of the leftists affiliated with these organizations have been openly critical of the United States' war on terrorism and the upcoming war in Iraq.
Mainstream gays are beginning to understand that their political leadership is comprised of shrill, socialist anti-Americans who are willing to ally themselves with foreign governments that execute gays in order to enhance their domestic political power. How else can one explain how the HRC and GLAAD can support "zero tolerance" for gay-related hate crimes in America while at the same time finding political solidarity with murderous Islamists and sadistic dictators like Saddam Hussein?
President Bush has provided a clear vision of the necessity to destroy the evildoers in the Middle East before they destroy us. And it is a vision that is increasingly appealing to mainstream gays.
(3) Greater sensitivity to tax policy.
Gay individuals are increasingly becoming the wealthiest taxpayers in the nation. According to the 2000 Census, average household income for gay men is $85,400, more than double the national average (note, however, that this figure does not take into account that gays tend to live in geographic regions with higher costs of living). Moreover, gay households are 3.4 times more likely to have incomes greater than $250,000.
With liberals constantly calling for the rich to be soaked with higher taxes, gay voters are increasingly turning away from the party that wishes to confiscate their wealth. Mainstream gays have a libertarian strand in their philosophy that wishes to keep the state out of their private affairs — that includes their wallets.
A February 2001 nationally representative poll of gays conducted by the Gill Foundation found that 60% of gay Americans rate tax policy as "important to them personally." In addition, a May 2001 Luntz poll found that 72% of gays agreed that the federal death tax is "discriminatory" and 82% support its repeal. Gays are speaking loud and clear on these economic issues — they prefer smaller government. This is good news for the Republican Party.
(4) A change in the selection of individuals who "come out of the closet."
Surely, one of the reasons for the increase in gay support for Republicans is that those individuals who identify themselves as gay today are different than those who did so, say, 10 years ago. In large part due to public efforts by political pundits like Andrew Sullivan and organizations such as the Independent Gay Forum, self-identified politically active gays are no longer cookie-cutter leftists. Today, right-wing gays are more comfortable "coming out of the closet" and voicing their political views because there are many more public figures who share their positions.
The lessons of the last 10 years reflect that the Republican Party will continue to win the votes of American gays not by pandering to them, but rather by sticking to a consistent philosophy that appeals to all voters - one that emphasizes individual liberty and personal accountability.