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Nov. 5, 2019, 9:52 a.m. EST

1 in 5 LGBTQ adults isn’t registered to vote, despite high 2020 stakes

Half of the LGBTQ adults registered to vote next November said they were Democrats and 15% were Republicans

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By Meera Jagannathan, MarketWatch


Robyn Beck/AFP/Getty Images
Protesters unfurl banners during a CNN town hall as Democratic presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg talks to moderator Anderson Cooper.

Some 21% of LGBTQ adults aren’t registered to vote, according to a recent study by the University of California, Los Angeles’ Williams Institute. That’s compared to an estimated 17% of non-LGBTQ adults.

The finding, part of a larger poll of 2,237 people that measured LGBTQ voters’ demographic characteristics and political attitudes, came as LGBTQ rights have taken center stage in the national conversation.

Some LGBTQ voters already face an uphill battle making their voices heard at the ballot box.

“Voter suppression has primarily targeted voters of color, who also happen to include LGBTQ Americans, who far too often face disproportionate barriers in accessing their right to vote,” Human Rights Campaign president Alphonso David told the Washington Post after HRC, a nonprofit that advocates for LGBTQ rights, backed a voting-rights initiative led by former Georgia gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams.

For instance, David said, voter-ID laws in some states requiring that a person’s documentation match their birth-assigned gender could preclude a transgender person from casting a ballot. While about 137,000 transgender people who had transitioned in the U.S. were eligible to vote ahead of the 2018 midterm elections, more than half might not have had documentation or ID that correctly reflected their gender, the Williams Institute found in August 2018 .

Half of the LGBTQ adults registered to vote next November said they were Democrats, 22% were independents and 15% were Republicans.

With that said, almost 9 million LGBTQ adults are eligible and registered to vote next November, according to the most recent poll, which was conducted by Ipsos in collaboration with the Williams Institute and Thomson Reuters. Half said they were Democrats, while 22% were independents and 15% were Republicans.

The sample included 136 registered LGBTQ voters and 1,836 registered non-LGBTQ voters.

LGBTQ rights feature in the 2020 presidential race

The analysis by the Williams Institute, a UCLA Law think tank that researches sexual orientation, gender identity and public policy, comes ahead of a high-stakes election in which civil-rights protections for LGBTQ people could hang in the balance .

The Equality Act, a bill that would shield LGBTQ individuals from discrimination in credit, housing, employment and a range of other areas, passed earlier this year in the Democrat-led House. Activists believe that turning the Republican-led Senate blue in 2020 would boost the bill’s chances of being signed into law.

Many leading Democrats vying for the 2020 nomination — including former Vice President Joe Biden and South Bend mayor Pete Buttigieg, the only openly gay candidate running — have thrown their support behind the Equality Act. Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) has also proposed abolishing the filibuster to clear a path for the Equality Act’s passage, should Senate Republicans block it.

‘LGBT voters differ from non-LGBT voters in several ways. For example, they are more likely to be young, male, and live in urban areas.’

—Study author Christy Mallory, the Williams Institute’s state and local policy director

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has not brought the bill to the floor, and President Trump’s administration has claimed that the bill in its current form “is filled with poison pills that threaten to undermine parental and conscience rights.”

“I’m just going to be blunt: We’ve got to have some more Democrats in the Senate,” Warren said during CNN’s recent Equality Town Hall, responding to a question about how to ensure that the Equality Act passed the Senate. “I’m willing to continue to push Mitch McConnell right now, but my No. 1 goal is to make sure he is not the majority leader come January 2021.”

The Supreme Court will make critical decisions for LGBTQ protections

Separately, the U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments last month on whether Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, which prohibits sex discrimination, also protects LGBTQ people from discrimination in the workplace on the basis of gender identity and sexual orientation.

LGBTQ people were more likely than their non-LGBTQ counterparts (51% to 40%) to support “a career politician who knows his or her way around the political process,” the Williams Institute study found. LGBTQ voters and non-LGBTQ voters alike showed greater support for younger candidates, and both groups signaled that the race of a candidate wouldn’t impact how they voted — though LGBTQ voters were more likely than non-LGBTQ voters to back a candidate because that person was black or Latino.

Majorities of both groups said it wouldn’t matter to their vote if a candidate were gay or lesbian, but far more LGBTQ voters than non-LGBTQ voters said they were “more likely to support a gay candidate” (41% to 10%) or “more likely to support a lesbian candidate (34% to 11%). LGBTQ voters also showed greater support for hypothetical candidates who were transgender or gender-nonbinary.

“LGBT voters differ from non-LGBT voters in several ways. For example, they are more likely to be young, male, and live in urban areas,” study author Christy Mallory, the Williams Institute’s state and local policy director, added in a statement. “LGBT voters are also more likely to identify with the Democratic Party. Over four million LGBT Democrats are eligible to vote in the primaries next year.”

This story was updated on Nov. 5, 2019.

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