Would Newt Gingrich Be Better Off Running As a Gay Man?

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[Updated below, 5:25pm] The Pew Research Center released some fascinating new findings Thursday on voter opinions about the 2012 field. (Short take: they’re not terribly psyched). I’ll have more to say later on the question of whether voters are willing to vote for a Mormon. But data on two other candidate traits jumped off the page as I flipped through the report.

The first is whether voters would be more or less likely to vote for a candidate who had conducted an extramarital affair. Four years ago, a majority of voters (56%) said a candidate’s adulterous past wouldn’t matter to them–39% said it would make them less likely to support a candidate. Now that number has risen to 46% of voters who would find it harder to support a candidate with an affair in his or her past, and only 49% say they wouldn’t care.

In 2008, you may remember, the GOP field had more than a few divorced candidates, and at least two–McCain and Giuliani–who had carried on with their current wives while still married to the previous ones. This time around, Newt Gingrich is the only contender with a known sordid past (at least, as long as Donald Trump stays out of the race), and voters are less forgiving. Among Republican voters, 57% say an affair makes a candidate less appealing.

At the same time, voters are more willing to consider supporting a gay candidate. Only 33% of voters today say they would be less likely to consider a gay presidential candidate because of his or her sexual orientation. That’s a dramatic shift from 2007, when nearly a majority (46%) of voters said a gay candidate would be less likely to get their support. Even among GOP voters, the percentage who say they couldn’t support a gay candidate has dropped by 12 points (from 64% in 2007 to 52% now).

Yes, you’re reading those numbers correctly. Republican voters say they’d be less likely to vote for a candidate with an affair in his past (57%) than a candidate who was gay (52%). Now, obviously, there’s no openly gay candidate running for the Republican nomination. But there is Newt Gingrich, who is known for (in no particular order): leading the 1994 Republican Revolution, cheating on his first wife before divorcing her, and cheating on his second wife with his now-third wife. I’m not saying that means Gingrich has no chance. But is it simply a coincidence that he just let the world know that his ringtone is ABBA?

Update 5:25pm  Who knew? It turns out there is an openly gay candidate running for the GOP nomination. Fred Karger, a former political consultant and actor, and current gay activist. So maybe Gingrich really should start to worry.