CASE STUDY: In the recent election Minnesota voters made headlines nationally as the first state to reject the marriage proposal--and the voter ID amendment. The marriage amendment attempted to constitutionally define marriage as between male and female, while the voter ID amendment would put significant strictures upon the voting process. Why was Vote No a success when similar groups had failed in other states?
I suspected the “win” was reflective of leading edge ideas in market segmentation, micro-targeting, and behavioral economics and statistics, but I had no idea of the degree to which that would be true.
The Twin Cities, a “white collar community” where 60% of the state’s population resides, is the center of transportation, business, industry, education, government and home to an internationally known arts community.
Well-reasoned strategy. As in most states, a number of groups in Minnesota set out to defeat the amendments. However, the main Vote No
When compared to other states, Minnesota is a special case: a cultural, business, governmental, educational and religious outlier. Its voting practices can’t be readily explained by mere numbers. Surprisingly, my research found a unique set of demographic characteristics that, taken together, made the amendment rejections possible—even inevitable. It became clear that Minnesota is, well . . . uniquely Minnesota, and can’t readily be compared to other states. In spite of that uniqueness, a question surfaces: are there transferable insights from the Minnesota experience that can be used by other states to reject these Hard-Right issues? My best guess is . . . maybe, but probably not.
What follows is a brief summary of six demographic characteristics, several of which have been shown to correlate with affirmative action and a same-sex marriage ideology.
1. Religiously and legislatively tolerant history. The state, heavily populated by Northern Europeans from Germany and Scandinavia, is religiously and legislatively tolerant—a characteristic that some parts of the country consider “liberal.” This cultural orientation to tolerance dates back to the 1930’s and the work of the Cowles family, owners of the Minneapolis Star Tribune and also a major driver of community philanthropy. Furthermore, both the heavily Lutheran and Catholic communities have an extensive history of social service which inherently supports civil rights agendas. Thus, in spite of the fact that the Catholic hierarchy took a strong position supporting the marriage amendment, investing deeply and partnering with the evangelical churches, more than 50% of Catholics came out against the marriage amendment. Minnesota’s Catholicism is easily the most liberal and tolerant in America, so they have not the slightest difficulty ignoring the archbishop and his minions. For example, one of my representative Catholic friends suggested the archbishop could “go fly a kite.” Minnesota also has the largest Somali population and the second largest Hmong population in the nation along with a large Hispanic population, all of which were leveraged to vote Democratic in support of minority rights. My Congressman, Keith Ellison (D), was the first Muslim in the US House of Representatives, capturing 65% of his district’s vote. He strongly supports minority rights, including GLBT—as did his district.
In contrast, states of the Deep South, such as Mississippi and Alabama, have no history of religious or cultural tolerance, tend to be Fundamentalist, and certain to support Hard-Right initiatives. States such as Massachusetts and Maine, both of which support same-sex marriage, are among the least religious, viewing the matter as a rights issue rather than one of religion. Northwestern and Western states have no religious identity, but both Oregon and Washington, with significant Asian majorities and Scandinavians, have manifested a high degree of legislative tolerance and liberalism historically--and support marriage equality.
2. Workplace tolerance. The Minnesota workplace has a history of tolerance, openness and acceptance of different sexual orientations, contrasting significantly with other states. Ten years ago, while consulting at a major corporation in Missouri, I asked out of curiosity whether there was a gay caucus in the firm. The Missouri employee was shocked, assuming that the answer was obvious. (I got a lecture on the Bible and the anti-gay position.) In Minnesota, however, most companies have been gay-friendly for more than 25 years, usually providing benefits to same-sex couples.
3. Highly literate population. Still another result of a significantly literate population is that a high proportion of women are employed; a large proportion of managers are female, and, in various ways, many companies have a long history of providing family support. What that meant was that the Hard-Right who opposed the adoption of pre-school programs designed to get kids ready for kindergarten, including support for quality day care and preschool were in for trouble. Working women, who would vote to protect their kids, could also be counted on to vote against both the marriage and voter amendments. Significantly, it has been shown that high literacy correlates to support for same-sex marriage relations. States in the Deep South, by contrast, are inevitably the least literate in the nation.
4. High voter turn-out. Minnesota consistently has the highest national voter turn-out of eligible voters—typically 15 - 20% more than the national average. That also includes the highest youth voter turnout in the nation. Furthermore, research has shown that there is a strong correlation between college experience and voter turnout, shockingly so. College experience differs strongly between those with no college experience: 66% versus 35%. What that meant, given the changing nature of gender attitudes in the youngest generation, ready acceptance of minority differences, and the large percentage of college students and recent graduates, is that the youth population would overturn the marriage amendment. Furthermore, the conversation around the ID amendment was that it was a “solution without a problem,” and “obviously Hard-Right politics.”
5. Intertwined relationships. Minnesota also has a historically intertwined relationship among government, business, education and religion—a rare contrast to other states. It makes sense to Minnesotans that family members go to church, hold a job down, that children go to school, that government keeps the streets clean and that people take care of each other. Individuals are expected to sacrifice for the common good. Big money and big egos are not welcomed, nor is ostentation. Hostility and one-upmanship among these relationships are viewed with disdain. Thus, when Vote No emphasized through media and publications that big money from outside the state, that national anti-gay groups and that national parties were trying to change the way Minnesota worked, these were understood as organizations that can do things to people—and not to be trusted. Few Minnesotans would think that what was good for powerful people and powerful organizations was good for Minnesota. In contrast to the libertarianism of the Far West (excluding the coasts) and the Deep South, there is a strong rejection of inequality: it offends the Minnesota sense of mutual responsibility.
Thus Vote No advertising modeled ordinary families talking about gay friends, gay employees and college students conversing with straights, gay families and adult children talking about their gay parents. In their conversations family members talked about why they were voting against the marriage amendment and why it is destructive of families. The advertising emphasized the intertwined relationships.
6. Business support. Finally, despite the Religious Right’s warnings of business boycott, major Minnesota business leaders came out publicly against the marriage amendment. Fifty (50) current and former CEOs took out a full-page ad in the Minneapolis Star Tribune to publicly announce their intention to vote no on the amendment. Unlike many Minnesotans, who disapproved of the ban on moral grounds, the business leaders made a business argument: “same sex marriage is good for business, plain and simple.”
The Star Tribune ad was signed by the leaders of several major businesses, including Ken Powell of General Mills (based in Minneapolis), Greg Page of Cargill (based in Wayzata); Bill George of Medtronic (based in Minneapolis), Doug Baker, Jr. of Ecolab (based in St. Paul), among dozens of others. I suspect that though Minnesota business flexed its muscle on the equal marriage amendment, in the final analysis, it was merely one more nail in the anti-gay coffin, not the perceived deciding factor of journalists and the Hard-Right.
Since the voter ID amendment was known to be the work of Hard-Right leaders, the same folk who voted against the marriage amendment, obviously also voted against the voter ID amendment. (The statistics are nearly identical.) Furthermore, in the two weeks prior to the election, a joint TV ad in which both Arne Carlson, a deeply respected former Republican governor, and the current Democratic governor, Mark Dayton of the Dayton family, came out against Voter ID. Carlson wisely emphasized that not only was it wrong, but it also would cost millions of dollars to institute.
What’s transferable to other states or constituencies? The lesson from the Minnesota experience is that its uniqueness and its cultural, ethnic, educational, religious and business history drove the vote against both the marriage and the voter ID amendments. In short, the vote was simply a matter of manipulating Minnesota demographics. Duplicating these demographics in other states does not look feasible. Perhaps that’s why two of my literate, traitorous Southern friends suggested that Lincoln made a mistake: he should have let the South secede. It is possible, however, that the fact that one high profile state voted against the amendments may result in the emergence of a different perspective on these issues.Flickr photo: by Mulad