'Progressive vanguard': 9% of Democratic primary voters so far are LGBT

LGBT people make up about 4.5 percent of the U.S. population, but they've made up 9 percent of Democratic primary voters so far, the NBC News Exit Poll found.
Image: Voters cast ballots during early voting for the presidential primary in Los Angeles, Calif., on March 1, 2020.
Voters cast ballots during early voting for the presidential primary in Los Angeles, Calif., on March 1, 2020.Mario Tama / Getty Images
By Tim Fitzsimons

Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Americans came out in disproportionately high numbers to vote in their states’ Democratic primaries this year, and they skewed younger and more liberal than non-LGBT Democratic primary voters, according to a review of the NBC News Exit Poll conducted in 18 of the states that have voted so far.

While former Vice President Joe Biden has won the most delegates so far, Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., has been the clear favorite among LGBT Democratic primary voters. Sanders was the pick of 41 percent of these voters, with Biden at 21 percent. The rest of the vote was split among candidates who have suspended their campaigns: Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., with 19 percent; former New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg with 8 percent; former South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg with 7 percent; and Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., with 1 percent.

Asked to choose one of four “candidate qualities,” 36 percent of LGBT Democratic primary voters said they wanted someone who “can bring change”; 27 percent said someone who “can unite the country”; 26 percent said someone who “cares about people like me”; and 8 percent said “a fighter.”

(Editor’s note: The NBC News exit poll covers Alabama, California, Colorado, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Vermont, Virginia, and Washington, and does not include data from the Iowa and Nevada caucuses.)

Young and liberal

Nearly two-thirds (64 percent) of the LGBT Democratic primary voters were 44 or younger, versus one-third (33 percent) of their non-LGBT counterparts. And 79 percent of LGBT Democratic primary voters identify as “liberal,” while just 21 percent say they are “moderate” or “conservative.” For non-LGBT Democratic primary voters, those numbers are 60 percent and 40 percent, respectively.

LGBT Democratic primary voters are also on board with “Medicare for All”: Seventy-two percent support replacing all private insurance with government insurance, versus 24 percent who oppose it.

More LGBT Democratic primary voters identify as liberal (79 percent) than as Democrats (63 percent), suggesting that a portion of the 36 percent of LGBT voters who say they are independent consider themselves to be further left than the Democratic Party.

“Even as society moves toward more legal recognition, more acceptance, more tolerance and therefore more assimilation of the LGBT population, it’s interesting — and these data certainly back it up — to see that they remain such a distinctively progressive group,” said Patrick Egan, an NYU political science professor who also serves as an elections analyst for the NBC News Exit Poll.

“After gay marriage happened, a lot of activists were wringing their hands saying, ‘Gay people are going to become conservatives now that they can get married,’ and we are just not seeing that in the data,” he continued.

‘Angry’ about Trump

The NBC News Exit Poll found LGBT Democratic primary voters were largely dissatisfied with President Donald Trump: Eighty-three percent said their feelings were best described as “angry,” and 13 percent said “dissatisfied.” Just 4 percent of these voters said their feelings toward the Trump administration were best described as “satisfied” or “enthusiastic.”

In the 2016 election, the NBC News Exit Poll found that 78 percent of LGBT voters chose Hillary Clinton, while 14 percent chose Trump.

‘The progressive vanguard’

Estimates by the Williams Institute at UCLA Law show there are 9 million LGBTQ Americans registered to vote in the 2020 election. Approximately half of them are registered Democrats, 15 percent are Republicans, 22 percent are independents and 13 percent are unsure.

Across swing states like Arizona and Florida, where LGBT people make up an estimated 4.5 and 4.6 percent of the population, respectively, these millions of voters could have a decisive impact in favor of a Democratic candidate in a close election. In the states that pushed Trump to an electoral college victory in 2016, the winning vote margins were far less than each state’s estimated LGBT population.

The high rate at which these voters call themselves Democrats fueled what the Human Rights Campaign, a national LGBT advocacy group, called “historic high turnout” for gender and sexual minorities. In every state, the percentage of the electorate that was LGBT was more than double or almost double the state’s estimated LGBT population. In Maine and Missouri, it was almost triple.

Overall, 9 percent of the entire Democratic primary electorate so far has been lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender, the NBC Exit Poll found.

“LGBT folks have long been part of a progressive vanguard in the United States, and these data indicate that that continues to be the case,” said Egan.

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Stephanie Perry contributed.