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Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Senate Vote on ENDA Remarkably Close to Public Sentiment

The Senate’s passage of the Employee Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) last week is generally in line with public opinion today. A Nov. 5-6 Gallup survey included a referendum question asking if Americans would vote for or against a law that would make it illegal to discriminate in the workplace on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. Sixty-three percent of Americans said yes, while 31% said no. This means that if the ENDA bill were put to a national referendum vote, it would pass by a strong margin -- albeit with about a third saying they would vote no.


There is less difference in these answers by partisanship than is usually the case. A majority of each of the three major partisan groups are in favor of the initiative, with Democrats only marginally higher in their approval than Republicans. This marks one of the few significant policy issues on which there is this level of agreement. It also marks a significant contrast to the huge partisan divide in attitudes toward same-sex marriage.  

At the same time, support or non-support for the law is not monolithic among rank-and-file Republicans and Democrats. Among Republicans nationally, 58% supported the law and 36% opposed it. Among Democrats nationally, 65% were in favor, while 32% were against it.

This provides us with an interesting contrast to the voting of senators from the two parties. Republican senators who voted on the bill on Nov. 7 split 10 in favor and 34 against, or 23% in favor vs. 77% against. And among Democratic senators who voted, it was 54 in favor, 0 against, or 100% in favor.

Thus, we have the following:

So, here we have an interesting insight into the nature of representative government in this country. Although about a third of Democrats’ constituents nationally were opposed to the ENDA, not a single Democratic senator voted “nay” on the issue. Of course, senators represent an entire state, and even if a third of all “nay” votes among Democrats were distributed evenly in each state represented in the Senate by a Democrat, that Democratic senator rationally would vote “yea,” because that would be what the majority of his or her constituency would want.

On the Republican side, there was more diversity in voting among Republican senators, although the Senate Republican vote tilted in the opposite direction of the sentiment of their Republican constituents. This could reflect a number of processes, including the very real possibility that a lot of the “yea” votes among Republicans are located in states represented by Democratic senators. Still, the fact that rank-and-file Republicans split almost two-to-one in favor of the ENDA, while Republican senators as a group voted against it by over a three-to-one margin shows a significant disparity in representation. 

Overall, however, the final vote in the Senate was 64 to 32, or 67% to 33%, which is remarkably close to the 63% to 31% margin among the general public. So, as noted, in this particular instance we have a close correlation between the vote of the upper chamber on the ENDA and the sentiments of the public.

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