This report is a data-driven case study and analysis. It offers a wealth of new data about the Proposition 8 campaign in California. The data permit reconsideration of the conventional wisdom about Prop 8, and show that most of it is factually incorrect.

This report also puts Prop 8 in context, and notes its remarkable similarity to other same-sex marriage campaigns. Prop 8 illustrates three patterns—two dysfunctional, one functional––that define much of the LGBT struggle with ballot measures since they first cropped up in the 1970s.

The first pattern is that anti-gay forces know how to exploit and stimulate anti-gay prejudice, and the LGBT community has difficulty facing and responding to the attack. Recycling a lie as old as Anita Bryant’s “Save Our Children” campaign in 1977, the anti-gay Yes on 8 campaign whipped up fears about kids to move voters to its side. In the final six weeks of the campaign, a minimum of 687,000 voters moved towards favoring the ban the on same-sex marriage. The voters who most dramatically moved toward the ban were not African-Americans or Republicans. Those who moved were largely part of the pro-LGBT base that got peeled away, particularly parents and voters of parenting age. In the closing weeks, almost three-quarters of the net movement toward the ban—approximately 500,000 voters—were parents with children under eighteen living at home. Other voters who also moved away in big numbers were white Democrats, Independents, and voters in the greater San Francisco Bay area. Yes on 8’s fear-mongering about children was particularly effective because No on 8 waited sixteen of the thirty days remaining until the election was over to directly respond. Once No on 8 responded directly in its TV ads, it made up some of the ground lost earlier.

The second, more positive pattern is that the LGBT community has become much more effective at building power. The No on 8 campaign made a series of smart choices that maximized the number of dollars raised and volunteers involved. There were also significant flaws, including a tough one that limited the value of the volunteer field campaign. But the record-breaking fundraising and volunteer recruitment and mobilization deserve wider recognition than they have received. We must build on these successes in future campaigns.

The third pattern is that No on 8 delegated to consultants too much of the thinking and therefore too much of the de facto decision making. Valuable as the consultants were, larger dynamics misled them. As problems arose that were outside of the consultants’ experience, too few people were in a position to help the campaign correct course. By September, when the problems were overwhelming, the only apparent option was a complete change in leadership. This extreme response both improved the situation in vitally important ways and led to the single most costly decision of the campaign: the failure to respond in a timely way to the “kids in danger” message that we should have seen coming.

Looking at the specific experiences of No on 8—what it did right and what it did wrong—teach us all how to do better. The Recommendations at the end aim to help us find our way forward.


How to Use This Report

The structure of the report allows readers to examine as much (or as little) data and detail as they desire.

This Abstract summarizes the entire report in one page.

The Executive Summary offers a concise overview of the report’s fundamental conclusions. It includes short summaries on:

The Findings section more fully examines each lesson learned. Each Finding provides both basic backup data and the author’s interpretation of the data. Many of the findings are based off of polling data recently released by Equality For All and available at http://www.eqca.org/site/pp.asp?c=kuLRJ9MRKrH&b=6096765.

The Appendices are primarily for readers who would like to apply their own independent judgement to the data. Each Finding is linked to one or more of the seventeen appendices. Each appendix addresses one topic in much greater detail and provides much more data than is possible in the body of the report. Each appendix is designed to expose the report’s assumptions and methodological approach to each topic. This allows readers to assess for themselves the strength or weakness of the thinking of the author and reach their own conclusions about lessons to be learned.

The charts in Appendix D illustrate the trends discussed in the body of the report. They show what happened in Prop 8 as well as tell about it.

The Recommendations section offers data and the author’s opinions about the next steps needed to prepare the LGBT community and allies to wage more successful campaigns in the future.