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What does Obama's support for same-sex marriage mean for his bid for a second term?

U of T Scarborough political scientist Christopher Cochrane weighs in

President Barak Obama

When US President Barack Obama declared his official support for same-sex marriage on May 9, the Twitterverse went into overdrive. Social media analysts reported that Twitter saw 1.6 million #gaymarriage tweets immediately after Obama’s announcement, with similar coverage from other media in TV, radio, websites and newspapers.

So, people are talking. But what does Obama’s declaration mean for the likelihood of him being a two-term president? And what does it mean for Mitt Romney and the Republican Party? U of T Scarborough political scientist Professor Christopher Cochrane, an expert in analyzing the left-right debate in politics, offers his take.

Q. Obama’s announcement certainly grabbed the headlines, but was it as bold a move as it initially seemed to be?

A. It’s certainly a major step for Obama to come out and support gay marriage, but I don’t think it’s as politically risky as it’s being made out to be. Of the people who are ardently opposed to gay marriage and who would vote exclusively on this issue, very few of them would have voted for Obama anyway. This speaks to the way that people’s opinions on different issues are packaged together. Obama is a supporter of abortion rights, for example, and support for abortion rights is strongly linked in public opinion with support for same-sex marriage. The Democrats are not going to lose people on same-sex marriage who they had not already lost on other issues.

Q. How will it impact Mitt Romney’s campaign?

A. This may galvanize the Tea Party behind Romney, but he has to be careful that he doesn’t alienate independents who are drawn to the Republican party for their economic policies, but not so much for their social policies. I think Romney’s timid reaction to Obama’s claim – effectively, that it’s a state’s rights issue – indicates his own concerns about the politics of same-sex marriage, and perhaps even some ambiguity about his own position on the issue.

Q. Politics is really owning the headlines lately, isn’t it?

A. The Obama announcement and its implications is great fodder for the established culture war industry in America. In the past two weeks, Canadians have seen the abortion question raised in the House of Commons, protests over the role of the state in education in Quebec, the President of the United States express support for same sex marriage, and unprecedented appeals, from all sides, to the radical right in France. Immigration, abortion, gay marriage, tuition rates, fiscal austerity – it’s hard to imagine that just a few decades ago the words “left” and “right” were effectively a foreign language in Canadian politics.

Find out more about Professor Cochrane’s research at: www.chriscochrane.ca