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Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Donations surge following Obama's marriage equality announcement

Donations to Barack Obama from Chicago’s most prominent LGBTQ neighborhoods increased dramatically after he announced support for marriage equality on May 9, an analysis of Federal Election Commission data shows.

From May 9 through June 30, the most recent date for which FEC statistics are available, average daily donations from the zip code encompassing Andersonville increased 370 percent when compared with the same time period preceding May 9. The zip code that covers Boystown registered a 250 percent increase.

Donations to the president’s re-election effort are up throughout Chicago when compared with 2011, common for an election year. But other neighborhood increases are less pronounced than the upticks from those tied to the city’s LGBTQ communities.

Donations are up 230 percent from the zip code covering Lincoln Park, an average of 200 percent from the codes covering Hyde Park, 180 percent, on average, from those covering Rogers Park, and 150 percent from the code covering the Gold Coast.

“It makes total sense,” said Lisa Martinez, a writer for “The L Stop,” a blog focused on Chicago’s lesbian community. Martinez said that early in his presidency, perceived equivocations concerning marriage equality hurt Obama’s support among LGBTQ voters.

“But now that he says that he does support it,” she added, “that’s definitely getting everyone hopeful again.”
John Frendreis, the chairman of Loyola University’s Department of Political Science, also thought the increases were predictable. “The degree to which you would expect this sort of response really depends upon the salience of the issue to the members of the community,” he said. Frendreis saw Obama’s support for marriage equality as more significant for LGBTQ voters than his repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”

“It’s the difference between Truman integrating the military and ‘Brown vs. Board of Education,’” he said. “One thing affects everybody in a very important and potentially vital way. The other one affects some members of the community. [It] has great symbolic importance for everybody, but less personal involvement.”

Also at issue is the sustainability of the supporter surge. John Brehm, a political science professor at the University of Chicago who studies voter behavior, wondered if voters concerned with LGBTQ issues would remain enthusiastic in the months ahead. He said that sustained support would mean voters were using their personal networks to encourage others to back the president. By contrast, a drop in donations would signal the initial surge was caused by increased media attention. “Is it an effect that is a mass media effect, or is it a community mobilization effect?” Brehm said. “That seems to be an unsettled and kind of interesting question generally in political science.”

From Lisa Martinez's perspective, the latter is the case. “Everyone’s aware that if [Obama] doesn’t win this election, then, I mean, all these conversations that we’re trying to have are just going to go away,” she said, “because the Republican Party is so opposed to everything that we’re trying to do.”

Available donation data seems to support that assessment. In the first six months of 2012, the zip codes covering Andersonville and Boystown donated $203,557 to Obama. Romney received $45,011.

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