It’s complicated. While there’s a history of resistance to gay marriage at many black churches, other factors could explain Buttigieg’s lack of success with African-Americans, some of whom surely look at him and see what many white critics of his also do: a charmed 37-year-old on the kind of glide path to greatness (Harvard, a Rhodes scholarship, a stint as a consultant with McKinsey) that defines privilege.
In a Gallup poll published in May, 83 percent of Democrats — and 82 percent of independents — said that they’d be willing to vote for a gay presidential candidate. That leaves a significant percentage who wouldn’t. A Reuters/Ipsos poll published the following month showed that among all voters, 34 percent were less likely to vote for a gay candidate. But that figure was lower than the 48 percent who said they were less likely to support a candidate over 70 — as Trump, Biden, Warren and Bernie Sanders will all be in November 2020.
Buttigieg’s sexual orientation, along with his age, definitely gave him an initial hook for journalists that other contenders didn’t have. It gave his candidacy a voguish aspect reflected in the passion of his younger supporters and the robust Twitter following that his husband, Chasten Buttigieg, quickly amassed.
It also drew donors. “Gay Money, Democratic Secret Weapon, Comes Out for Buttigieg” was the headline on an article in Vanity Fair by Peter Hamby this year. Buttigieg’s fund-raising haul of more than $51 million through Sept. 30 places him behind only Sanders and Warren.
And while being gay obviously disqualifies him for a sizable group of Americans — 36 percent of whom, according to Gallup, still oppose the legal recognition of same-sex marriage — what fraction of them were likely to vote for a Democrat, anyway? Besides, didn’t Trump’s election prove that many voters could and would overlook elements of a candidate’s personal life if he gave voice to matters they cared about?
Could the ranks of the Buttigieg-resistant be offset by Americans eager to send the kind of message about their values and their desire for change that a vote for Buttigieg would? Obama benefited from that impulse. When a candidacy seeks to make history — as Buttigieg’s does and Obama’s did — it can stir extra excitement.
Buttigieg told me that when fans approach him at campaign events, “it’s not unusual for someone to be in tears just because the fact of our candidacy is so unbelievable to them as something they would see in their lifetimes.”