Metro Weekly

Did 28% of LGBTQ people really vote for Donald Trump?

Some experts say exit polls will need to be reweighted to get a more accurate estimate of support for President Trump

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Donald Trump — Photo: Gage Skidmore

Following the 2020 election, initial national exit polls indicated that President Donald Trump had more than doubled the percentage of the LGBTQ vote he received in 2016, sending shockwaves among members of the LGBTQ community, many of whom have felt attacked by the actions of a Trump-Pence presidency.

According to the exit polls, 61% of LGBTQ-identifying people voted for President-elect Joe Biden (D), while 28% voted for President Donald Trump (R). In 2016, when he ran against Hillary Clinton, Trump only won 13% of the LGBTQ vote.

Following the release of exit poll data, some prominent liberals, including Charles Blow, a columnist for The New York Times, had a meltdown over Trump’s increases in support across the board among groups that largely favor Democrats, including women, racial and ethnic minorities, and LGBTQ people.

“[T]he percentage of LGBT voting for Trump doubled from 2016. DOUBLED!!! This is why LGBT people of color don’t really trust the white gays,” Blow tweeted. “Yes, I said what I said. Period.”

 

Bruce Richman, the founding executive director of the Prevention Access Campaign, called the exit polls “deeply disturbing news” and asked “what will we do to address LGBT white supremacy in the US?”

LGBTQ conservatives on Twitter took a victory lap, crowing about the end of identity politics and the Democratic Party’s weakening hold on minority voters in general. 

Brad Polumbo, a libertarian-leaning conservative, penned a column for the Washington Examiner casting the higher LGBTQ vote share as a rejection of identity politics and a “victimhood” narrative, suggesting that Democrats’ efforts to highlight the Trump administration’s record on LGBTQ rights as horrible failed.

“To be clear, the unique circumstances of this election could mean this early figure is eventually adjusted significantly,” Polumbo wrote. “But while only a rough and preliminary estimate, it is more than double the 13% of LGBT voters Trump won against Hillary Clinton in 2016.

See also: 76% of LGBTQ voters prefer Biden over Trump, pre-election poll says

“Of course, this won’t come as a massive surprise for most casual observers. After all, while Trump has implemented some controversial and arguably discriminatory policies, such as restrictions on transgender military service, he was also the first president who entered office supportive of gay marriage,” Polumbo noted. “A former New York liberal, Trump was never an anti-gay culture warrior. Many, if not all, of the claims that the Trump administration’s policies are anti-gay were either fake news, misrepresented, or overblown.”

Polumbo continued: “More and more voters are realizing that their sexuality or gender identity does not have to define them. The true realization of LGBT acceptance comes when gay and transgender people get to be individuals who can have their own opinions without being called a traitor to their peers, like everyone else…. Once freed from the constraints of historic bigotry and animosity, there is no reason gay and transgender voters should lean to the left.

“Trump is far from perfect, and one can imagine that a less controversial and less personally off-putting Republican with his same policies and views might have won over even more gay and transgender voters. But nonetheless, these exit polls strongly suggest that he may have broken the Democratic Party’s stranglehold over gay and transgender voters — and sent left-wing identity politics into a death spiral,” he concluded.

But some LGBTQ advocates cautioned against reading too much into the data from preliminary exit polls.

“We are highly skeptical of the ability to get fast and reliable exit poll data, especially for a diverse community like ours, in an election year with unprecedented levels of absentee and vote-by-mail ballots cast,” Zeke Stokes, a consultant who served as advisor to the LGBTQ advocacy organization GLAAD on 2020 voter engagement initiatives, said in a statement. “As additional data becomes available we are confident that the early reports of increased LGBTQ support for an anti-equality President will prove inaccurate.”

Dr. Andrew Flores, an assistant professor of government at American University’s School of Public Affairs and a visiting scholar at The Williams Institute, expressed his own concerns regarding the validity of the early exit polls.

For instance, Flores noted, Edison Research for the National Election Pool — the polling outlet that found the 28% level of support for Trump — showed that LGBTQ voters were overrepresented in comparison to the proportion of the total U.S. population they comprise (4.5% overall), in line with the findings of two other exit pollsters, the AP VoteCast and Cooperative Election Survey.

However, NEP/Edison’s state-level polls don’t seem accurate, Flores said, as they estimate the percentage of LGBT voters at 1% in New York and estimate Montana as the state with the highest percentage of LGBT voters, around 8%. 

“I think there is ample reason to doubt the validity of the [National Election Pool/Edison] Exit Poll for the LGBT vote,” Flores told Metro Weekly in an email. “The other two polls show patterns that are consistent with past voting trends among LGBT voters. Trump did gain ground with LGBT people in 2020 compared to 2016, but it seems to just have returned to historic patterns of voting for Republican candidates among LGBT people.”

That equates to about a 3-to-1 margin for Democratic presidential candidates over Republican candidates, with AP VoteCast finding 73% of LGBTQ voters said they voted for Biden.

Lucas Acosta, the deputy communications director for politics at the Human Rights Campaign, also expressed skepticism about the level of support measured in the early exit polls, although he was heartened by the overrepresentation of LGBTQ voters within the electorate — a point on which all three major exit pollsters agree, although NEP/Edison places it at 7%, AP VoteCast at 8%, and the Cooperative Election Survey at 11%.

“The numbers [from all three polls] prove yet again that LGBTQ people are disproportionately politically active,” Acosta told Metro Weekly. “Our rights have been on the ballot for the last two decades, and so that’s incentivized us to get into politics and to get involved. And that’s why you’re seeing these historic numbers, which we’re really excited about.”

See also: LGBTQ community disproportionately impacted by COVID-19 pandemic, polling says

Regarding the percentage of LGBTQ voters who cast ballots for Trump, Acosta doesn’t doubt that a higher percentage of LGBTQ people voted for Trump compared to four years ago, but believes the NEP/Edison number is an overestimation.

Like Flores, he sees glaring warning signs in the state head-to-head polls, placing the LGBTQ population at only 1% in New York, for instance, despite the state having a substantial and very politically engaged LGBTQ community.

“If we hit a historic margin nationally, there’s absolutely zero scenario that has only one percent of New York voters identifying as LGBTQ,” Acosta said. “I’m also looking at states like Florida where only 17% of LGBT voters said that they were voting for Trump, and Ohio, where Trump’s support was only in the teens. And I think there is going to need to be some significant re-weighting to figure out how they got these types of results in swing states that were favorable to Trump, which was out-of-step with the numbers they got on the national level.”

Acosta also noted that the NEP/Edison numbers for Trump and Biden have 11% of LGBT voters casting ballots for neither Biden nor Trump, while only 2% of non-LGBT voters voted third party.

“I think it just points back to the fact that these polls need to be reweighted, because there’s absolutely zero chance in hell that LGBTQ voters voted at double digits for a third party, especially given that third parties weren’t even on the ballot in all 50 states…. These polls are not even close to being final, and were probably even Trump-favorable. When we get the final results, I think people will see that the LGBTQ vote will go back to the exact same margins we’ve seen in every prior election, which is about a 3-to-1 ratio for the Democrat.”

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John Riley is the local news reporter for Metro Weekly. He can be reached at jriley@metroweekly.com

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