Mainers, and national observers, have woken up this morning asking how the Yes on 1 coalition won this fight. Through most of the lead up to this vote, observers (including myself) felt that it would be extremely close, potentially to a recount, and that the No on 1 folks had the early advantage.
True, most of us were careful to couch our predictions with additional analysis that left the door open for a Yes on 1 victory, but I don’t think anyone really saw a more than 30,000 vote victory for the proponents of the veto. And make no mistake – this was a decisive, and unquestionable win for the Yes on 1 campaign. It wasn’t really very close.
Why do I say this? Take a gander at the county by county map:
The only counties that went for the No on 1 campaign were Hancock, Knox, Cumberland and York. In Hancock, No won by only a margin of 53%-47%, Knox and York were both basically 51%-49% and Cumberland represented the only decisive victory for the campaign at 60%-40%.
So how did it happen?
The short answer, is that No on 1 dramatically underperformed in urban areas, and got slaughtered in the rural parts of the state.
Consider this: Of the ten largest cities in Maine (Portland, Lewiston, Bangor, South Portland, Auburn, Biddeford, Brunswick, Sanford, Scarborough and Augusts), five of them (Lewiston, Auburn, Biddeford, Sanford and Augusta) voted yes. Let me repeat that – five of the ten largest cities in Maine voted for the veto. Even more interesting, take Lewiston-Auburn a step further: They went (combined) 62%-38% for Barack Obama over John McCain in 2008, and 43-32-25 for John Baldacci over Chandler Woodcock and Barbara Merrill in 2006 – yet they voted heavily for a culturally conservative ballot initiative. Welcome to Maine.
Check out our chart on the results from the thirty largest cities:
Note: The population numbers are based on 2006 census estimates, and not every single precinct has yet reported, so these are not the final numbers, but they do show about 95% of them, and can clearly demonstrate the trend.
While No on 1 performed very well in Portland, even in the cities where no did in fact win, the margins were not nearly as high as was needed. Consider that Bangor and Scarborough only saw “no” victories of about 9% overall. That same level of separation was also present in Westbrook, Waterville, Gorham, York, Kennebunk, Wells and Topsham.
In other words, in those more urban/suburban areas where No on 1 really badly needed large margins of victory, they were only able to pull in minor spreads.
This is important, because we all knew that the more remote, rural areas of Maine were going to come in heavily against gay marriage, so these large population centers needed to deliver in a big way to offset that.
Aroostook County, for example weighed in heavily for Yes on 1, contributing a net of 12,000 votes and beating No on 1 by a whopping 73%-27% margin. Franklin County, Oxford County and Somerset County all weighed in decisively for Yes on 1 as well.
But even more damaging were Kennebec County (delivering a net of 7,000 votes for Yes) and Penobscot County (11,000), both of which hold a strong number of votes and represent a mix of urban, suburban, and rural voters.
This was the real battlefield where No on 1 lost. These voters – and their cousins in other counties – are not “back country hicks” – even though some areas of those counties are remote. I myself am from Penobscot country (Hampden, specifically – which incidentally went for Yes 53%-47% for those of you keeping score), and a great deal of these people represent the typical “suburban swing voter”. In other words, many of them work white collar jobs, live in mostly nice neighborhoods within striking distance of a city, and are pliable for whichever side makes the better case. We are not talking about culturally conservative “Deliverance” type areas here – this is the home of Maine’s soccer moms.
The failure of No on 1 to make any inroads in these types of voters is what ultimately doomed them. The people who live in townships and in the shadows of mountains may have been decidedly against gay marriage, but they don’t represent anywhere near enough votes to offset what happened in Portland and other No on 1 cities. This fight was lost among the middle class voters of “middle Maine”, and it was lost badly.
The question going forward for gay rights advocates has to be, “now what?” This fight wasn’t just lost, it was lost handily, and there is no way I see this question coming up again and seeing a different result. Will we now see a push for a Civil Union bill as some form of compromise? Will we see activists pushing the courts to pull a Massachusetts? We shall see – but one thing is clear: for all of its reputation as a “liberal stronghold”, Maine remains more culturally conservative than not.