working papers

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Political Distinctiveness and Diversity among LGBT Americans

Largely due to data limitations, lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) identities are almost always overlooked in academic analyses of public opinion. This paper draws on recent large-N surveys to show that this omission has obscured both the distinctiveness of LGBT Americans and the diversity within the LGBT community. LGBT Americans are distinctively liberal compared to otherwise similar respondents — in their general political predispositions, electoral choices, and attitudes on a wide range of policy matters. At the same time, there is substantial diversity within the community — bisexual and transgender respondents are frequently less liberal than lesbians and gay men. Analysis of intersecting identities reveals substantial differences between bisexual men and bisexual women, but little evidence of diversity based on gender within lesbian/gay and transgender subgroups. Given these findings, public opinion scholars should routinely incorporate measures of LGBT identities in their analyses, alongside race, gender, class, and other respondent characteristics.

Respectability politics and straight support for LGBTQ rights

The modern LGBTQ movement has emphasized the extent to which its members adhere to heteronormative expectations in the hopes this will lead to increased support from straight people. But does this strategy actually lead to majority approval for minority rights? I draw on an experiment embedded in a module of the 2018 CCES. Respondents were shown a (fictitious) news story about gay men suing a local business owner for denial of service. The plaintiffs were portrayed either as conforming to mainstream norms (two people in a monogamous relationship) or violating them (three people in an open relationship). The results are striking: the men’s relationship structure had no effect on straight respondents’ likelihood of supporting their case, viewing them empathetically, or favoring LGBTQ rights in general. This suggests that emphasizing how LGBTQ relationships are “just like” straight people’s may not be necessary to win their support, and has broader implications for minority group strategies that are rooted in respectability politics.

The mobilizing effects of emphasizing the sameness or difference of LGBTQ identities

Social movements organized around marginalized identity groups face numerous challenges, not least of which is how to present those identities. In trying to simultaneously mobilize in-group members and win support from the dominant out-group, movements can face a dilemma: the kinds of identity presentation that draw support from outside of the community may dampen internal enthusiasm, and vice-versa. This question of how to present identity is particularly acute for the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) movement (Bernstein, 1997). Assimilationists have argued that presenting LGBTQ people as highly similar to straight/cisgender people will win over out-group allies, while liberationists have argued that celebrating the uniqueness of LGBTQ identities will build a sense of group cohesion and mobilize in-group members. Are appeals from groups that emphasize LGBTQ sameness or difference most effective in mobilizing potential supporters? Do members of the LGBTQ community and straight/cisgender allies respond in different ways to these different presentations of identity? Further, do these different presentations affect how LGBTQ people view their sense of self and group membership, potentially fueling future participation?

Racial resentment, partisan identity, and public opinion about voter fraud

Despite a lack of evidence, the belief that voting fraud is common is widespread and support for requiring voters to show identification (ID) at the polls is high. Observers point to Americans’ racial and partisan predispositions as explanations, viewing support as reflective of Whites’ resentment toward minorities and/or Republicans’ desire to prevent likely Democrats from voting. In this study, I attempt to disentangle these two effects with a survey experiment that primes racial and partisan considerations. Non-Hispanic White respondents were exposed to an image of campaign activists that varied by both race (White vs. non-White) and party (Democrats vs. Republicans) before answering questions about voter fraud. Neither belief in the prevalence of fraud nor support for voter ID laws varied significantly by the image respondents were exposed to. There is some evidence that racial resentment moderates the effect, such that racially resentful Whites see fraud as more common when exposed to images of non-White Democrats. However, for the most part, there are few differences across conditions. I conclude by considering some potential explanations for these null results.

Challenger quality and democratic accountability

Scholars frequently suggest that high-quality challengers foster greater accountability in congressional elections: more experienced candidates should better educate the public about the incumbent’s record and encourage them to punish her for any “out of step” votes. To test these assumptions, I match survey data from the 2006–2010 U.S. Senate elections with multiple measures of challenger quality. The results show no effect of challenger quality on what constituents know about the incumbent’s record or how well they hold her accountable for it. The presence of high-quality candidates thus appears less critical for democratic accountability than many assume.