Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton greets people as she marches with New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo in the 46th annual New York City Gay Pride Parade on June 26, 2016.(Photo: Peter Foley, EPA)
WASHINGTON – The nation’s largest gay rights advocacy group is undertaking its biggest and most sophisticated get-out-the-vote effort ever with hopes of affecting not only the presidential election but control of the U.S. Senate.
The Human Rights Campaign is focusing on presidential battleground states that also have tight Senate races, plus large enough populations of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender voters to impact the outcome.
The organization has tallied LGBT voters and the math shows they could help put Democrats over the top in North Carolina, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, Florida and Nevada. Across the country, there are roughly 10 million eligible LGBT voters, including between 3 and 4 percent of the electorate in each of those states.
But for the first time, HRC is expanding its outreach to include what it calls pro-equality voters: straight people who support equal rights for LGBT individuals but who are not currently active.
“This is the largest and most robust and sophisticated get-out-the-vote voter mobilization effort in the history of our movement around a presidential election, no question,” HRC President Chad Griffin told USA TODAY.
The group has partnered with election-data firm Catalist to build a voting model that measures every voter’s likelihood to support LGBT equality on a scale of 0-100 and also their likelihood of showing up to vote.
The group is then targeting voters who score 70 or higher on equality and between 30 and 80 on likely turnout, meaning those who may be waffling about whether to go to the polls but who would vote for a pro-equality candidate if persuaded to turn out.
The goal is to reach those people with 20 to 40 contacts, including texts, phone calls or more widely, digital ads. With today’s advertising technology, the campaign can discern exactly which voters see which ads how many times.
“In the key swing states, that is where we have put the bulk of our energy, focus and resources in this election,” Griffin said. “And it’s important not just for this election, but it’s also something we’re building on to grow and expand in two years in the midterms and then in four years in the re-elect.”
Ground zero of the effort is North Carolina, where HRC hopes to capitalize on backlash to that state’s controversial bathroom law to demonstrate that discriminating against LGBT individuals is no longer palatable politically.
North Carolina Republican Gov. Pat McCrory signed the legislation in March requiring people to use bathrooms in publicly funded buildings corresponding with their birth gender and also preventing cities and towns in North Carolina from enacting their own anti-discrimination policies.
More than 200 executives denounced the law, known as House Bill 2, or HB2, including the chief executives of Facebook and major North Carolina employer Bank of America. PayPal and Deutsche Bank scrapped plans for expansion in the state. The NBA yanked its 2017 All-Star Weekend, and the NCAA pulled tournament games from the state for the next academic year.
Human Rights Campaign says it has done focus groups in the state that show the fracas caused voters who previously might not have cared about LGBT rights to be more receptive to their message.
“North Carolina really has the possibility of being a watershed moment for our country, and certainly for our movement,” Griffin said.
There are 256,000 LGBT voters in North Carolina, making up 3.3% of the electorate. HRC has identified roughly 145,000 other persuadable voters, upping their potential turnout impact to 5.2%.
McCrory is running half a point behind his Democratic challenger Roy Cooper, 47-46.5%, according to the RealClearPolitics polling average. Hillary Clinton has a 2.1 percentage point lead over Donald Trump in the state, 46.1 to 44%, and Republican Sen. Richard Burr, has 3.1 percent lead over Democratic challenger Deborah Ross 45-41.9%.
“When students in the future of state politics will look up ‘political miscalculation’ in the reference books, they will see a picture of this,” said Andrew Reynolds, political science professor at the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill. “Across the board it’s hurt Republicans.”
“Most Carolinians like the rest of the country now have a friend or a family member or a colleague at work who identifies as gay or lesbian,” he said. “So I mean, Carolina is just like every other state in that the level of homophobia, the level of bigotry has declined, and so HB2 is very much out of step with popular opinion.”
Patrons at LGBT-friendly Bar 10 in West Hollywood watch the second presidential debate between Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump and Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton on October 9, 2016. (Photo: David McNew, Getty Images)
Andrew Flores, an assistant professor at Mills College and fellow at the University of Southern California Law School’s Williams Institute on sexual orientation and gender identity law and public policy says there’s more to it.
“Part of the backlash is also due to the wasted time and resources, items that could have been used elsewhere,” he said. “Also, the economic burden placed upon states increases this.”
While the other battleground states don’t have similar issues, they do have considerable numbers of LGBT voters and allies, HRC said. The Supreme Court is a large mobilizing factor, as the next president could fill the vacant seat on the bench, determining whether rights already granted, such as same-sex marriage, are protected and whether the court will grant further rights or protections.
“I do think voters, our voters, understand the significance and importance of that,” Griffin said. “This is a significant and powerful voting bloc that I think are going to speak with their votes this year perhaps louder than ever before.”