LGBT Voters’ 2016 Political Clout, State by State

This week Donald Trump argued that he was a better candidate for the nation’s gay and lesbian community than his Democratic rival Hillary Clinton.

The words were remarkable in that the presumptive Republican presidential nominee seemed to be making a play for the LGBT vote, traditionally seen as a core Democratic bloc. The remarks also spurred a protest from Human Rights Campaign activists Thursday, who noted that Mr. Trump opposes gay marriage among other gay-rights issues.

But when you look closely at how the LGBT vote is spread around the country, Mr. Trump’s effort makes some sense. There are states where that vote could be crucial in November.

Getting an accurate count of the LGBT population is not easy. But the Williams Institute, based at UCLA, working with Gallup, devised state-by-state estimates. And those numbers showed two important points.

The percentage of people who said they identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender varies a lot by state. The states with the highest percentages were Hawaii, Oregon, Vermont, Maine and Rhode Island, all of which voted for President Barack Obama in 2012. The states with the lowest percentages – North Dakota, Tennessee, Montana, Mississippi and Utah – all voted for Mitt Romney.

But, perhaps more important, there are five states where the LGBT population is larger than the 2012 presidential margin. Mr. Obama won four of them: Florida, Ohio, Virginia and Nevada. Mr. Romney won the other state, North Carolina.

In some of those states, the LGBT population is far larger than the 2012 margin. In Florida, Ohio and North Carolina, the population is more than 100,000 more than the vote margin. In other words, on strictly a headcount basis, the LGBT vote could matter very much in November.

But there are caveats, of course. First the race will have to be close for those states, and the vote segments in them, to matter. Second, Mr. Trump’s comments aside, how much is the LGBT vote in play?

The numbers suggest Mr. Trump would have a lot of work to do. Just before the 2012 election, Gallup reported that 71% of those who identified as LGBT said they supported Mr. Obama. Only 22% said they supported Mr. Romney.

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