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The Employment Nondiscrimination Act is overwhelmingly popular in nearly every one of the 50 states

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The above graph shows the estimated support, by state, for the Employment Nondiscrimination Act, a gay rights bill that the Senate will be voting on this Monday. The estimates were constructed by Kate Krimmel, Jeff Lax, and Justin Phillips using multilevel regression and poststratification.

Check out that graph again. The scale goes from 20% to 80%, but every state is in the yellow-to-red range. Support for a law making it illegal to discriminate against gays has majority support in every state. And in most states the support is very strong.

And here’s the research paper by Krimmel, Lax, and Phillips, which begins:

Public majorities have supported several gay rights policies for some time, yet Congress has responded slowly if at all. We address this puzzle through dyadic analysis of the opinion- vote relationship on 23 roll-call votes between 1993 and 2010, matching members of Congress to policy-specific opinion in their state or district. We also extend the MRP opinion estimation technique so that it can be used more often for district-level analysis. While policy-specific opinion is a very strong determinant of roll-call voting, we find large gaps in responsiveness and biases in policymaking. Though opinion strongly influences white male Democrats, black lawmakers and white female Democratic lawmakers generally support gay rights and Republicans consistently oppose them, regardless of constituent preferences. We also unpack polarization over time, showing Democrats moving into and Republicans out of sync with their constituents. This yields a broader, deeper picture of the opinion-vote relationship.

For example, here’s the story of the 2007 House vote on employment non-discrimination:


The pattern is clear: as far as can be estimated, majorities supported the nondiscrimination bill in nearly every district, but only half the congressmembers voted for it.

For Monday’s vote, Lax and Phillips write:

The Employment Nondiscrimination Act (ENDA) . . . was last brought to a vote in the Senate in 1996, failing by only a single vote (49-50). . . . This time around, success will require the proponents of LGBT rights to secure the votes of at least 60 senators, enough to overcome a likely Republican filibuster. . . .

Will ENDA receive the necessary votes? If senators listened to their constituents, the bill would pass overwhelmingly. . . . Who should the proponents of ENDA target for the 60th vote? Our opinion estimates suggest that the top target should be Sen. Ayotte of New Hampshire. Estimated support for ENDA in her state is a whopping 77% and strong opposition only about 5%. Of all Republican senators who are not already committed to supporting the bill, her constituents would be most supportive of a “yes” vote. Other top targets (based entirely on constituent opinion) ought to be senators Toomey of Pennsylvania, Johnson of Wisconsin, and McCain and Flake of Arizona. Support for ENDA is 74% in each of these states. . . .

P.S. Two issues came up in the comments that I’d like to address:

1. Ashok wrote: “I suspect that if the first graph was weighted by how much voters care, it would start to look a lot more like the actual graph.” The suggestion is that voters who oppose gay rights feel more strongly about the issue than voters who support gay rights. It is possible, but I have no particular reason to believe it—if anything, given the nature of the issue, I’d be inclined to believe the opposite, that supporters of gay rights feel more strongly about the issue than do opponents. And you’d need a huge huge difference in intensity to overcome the huge disparities in support that we see from the polls. Finally, consider the estimates reported by Lax and Phillips:

Estimated support for ENDA in [New Hampshire] is a whopping 77% and strong opposition only about 5%.

If anti-gay-rights voters really cared so much about the issue, I’d think we’d see much more than 5% in the “strong opposition” category.

2. Mark, Shaun, and Ashok point out that Republican primary voters are far more conservative than the average person. Sure, that could be part of it, on the other hand Democratic primary voters are far more liberal, yet Lax and Phillips have consistently found lack of congruence in certain issues comparing state-level attitudes vs. policy. I guess what I’m saying here is that, yes, primary electorates (and, more generally, political activists) are definitely a key part of the story, but it’s more complicated than a simple counting of the preferences of a majority of a majority.


  1. Mark Palko says:

    I wonder what that first map looks like for primary voters.

  2. […] From Andrew Gelman, who is passing along research by some Columbia political scientists, the estimated support, by state, for the Employment Nondiscrimination Act, a gay rights bill that the US Senate will be voting on this Monday. […]

  3. Shaun says:

    I’ve only quickly glanced through the linked paper, but I would have thought an obvious way to better understand the voting behavior of congressional Republicans is to conduct an MRP with cells for Senate/House vote x age x income. I’d suspect older, higher income republican voters in districts/states held by Republicans tend to be closer to the positions taken by congressional Republicans, and these are likely the primary constituents they (a) communicate with, (b) receive campaign contributions from and (c) who vote in Republican primaries. I don’t think there’s a puzzle here.

    Very interesting work, though. I think MRP shows a great deal of promise for better understanding voter behaviour and the motivations behind some of elected officials actions.

  4. dmk38 says:

    Only 50% of US adults know the length of a term of a US Senator. What basis is there for thinking the “majorities” here really know–much less genuinely care– what this legislation is about when they tell a pollster they “support” it?

    • Andrew says:


      I don’t think Jeff and Justin are claiming that majorities know what this legislation is about.

      But consider another example: health-care reform. Polling has been a huge part of the story of the political battle over health care. I’m pretty sure that majorities don’t know what the health care reform is about. I don’t even know what’s in the health-care bill, and I’m a student of American politics! But the polling, and the change in reported opinions, has still been central to the story.

      • dmk38 says:

        but the premise of the paper is that there’s a disconnect between public opinion & legislative behavior. If the measure of public opinion isn’t valid — b/c it disregards comprehension, much less intensity & depth of public engagement — then how are we to know whether there is really a mystery to be solved here?

      • Steve Sailer says:

        I have practically no opinion on either the health care debate or on global warming because they both sound immensely complicated and even if I put in all the effort to get up to speed, I’d probably have little to contribute.

        In contrast, there are plenty of important, much-discussed topics where the reigning taboos of the time mean that the level of public discourse is so poor that it’s easy to make large contributions to public understanding so long as you are willing to put up with the hate that gets spewed at somebody who thinks for himself.

  5. Ashok Rao says:

    This is not much consolation, but I suspect that if the first graph was weighted by how much voters care, it would start to look a lot more like the actual graph. Emergence of competitive nutjob primary elections probably has something to do with it, but not as much as the fact that this just isn’t something people in the broad care all that much about.

    Just conjecture.

  6. Jonathan (another one) says:

    I suspect that it less intensity of opinion that intentional disguise of opinion. I am far from ane xpert on these issues, but it was my impression that people consistently misstate their opinions on civil rights issues toward expanded civil rights to avoid looking “prejudicd” to the interviewer. Politicians actually voting know better.

    A second possiblitly, related to but not isomorphic with Ashok’s feeling, is that politicians come with vote bundles in which lots of nominally (or even philosophically ubrelated) issues are bundled together for complex historical reasons — the classic example is that “respect for life” would, on philosophical grounds, weakly pair antiabortion opinions with anti-capital punishment opinions, but they are rarely linked either in opinion polls or in vote-casting behavior. This “mood affiliation” as Tyler Cowen calls it, mandates casting with your bundle, which then puts politicians in the proper camp, irrespective of voters median position on any particular issue.

  7. […] post … “The Employment Nondiscrimination Act is overwhelmingly popular in nearly every one of the 50 […]

  8. Steve Sailer says:

    From today’s New York Times:

    “A measure that would add sexual orientation and gender identity to federal nondiscrimination law has gained its 60th supporter in the Senate, giving it what appears to be a filibuster-proof majority as a key vote looms. … It will be the first time that the full Senate has considered a measure that includes protection for transgender people.”

    Gays have won such a crushing victory that the battlefront is rapidly being pushed onward to the various flavors of trans folks. The pre-ops who demand to use the lady’s bathroom standing up are a near ideal minority for use in smoking out those covert haters who can’t quite get on board.

  9. […] When I earlier posted on this, some commenters brought up primary elections and others talked about the intensity of […]

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