Social scientists have debated whether belief in a biological basis for sexual orientation engenders more positive attitudes toward gay men and lesbians. Belief in the biological theory has often been observed to be correlated with pro-lesbian/gay attitudes, and this gives some “weak” support for the hypothesis. There is far less “strong” evidence that biological beliefs have caused a noteworthy shift in heterosexist attitudes, or that they hold any essential promise of so doing. One reason for this divergence between the weak and strong hypothesis is that beliefs about causality are influenced by attitudes and group identities. Consequently beliefs about a biological basis of sexual orientation have identity-expressive functions over and above their strictly logical causal implications about nature/nurture issues. Four other factors explain why the biological argument of the 1990s was an intuitively appealing as a pro-gay tool, although there is no strong evidence that it had a very substantive impact in making public opinion in the USA more pro-gay. These factors are that the biological argument (a) implied that sexuality is a discrete social category grounded in fundamental differences between people, (b) implied that sexual orientation categories are historically and culturally invariant, (c) implied that gender roles and stereotypes have a biological basis, and (d) framed homosexual development, not heterosexual development, as needing explanation. Understanding this literature is important and relevant for conceptualizing the relationship between biological attributions and social attitudes in domains beyond sexual orientations, such as in the more recent research on reducing transphobia and essentialist beliefs about gender.
Political tolerance and commitment to egalitarianism have long been examined as possible contributors to attitudes toward LGBT+ people and policies. Since the 1970s, American attitudes toward LGBT+ issues have changed drastically. During this period, public policy and measures of public opinion toward LGBT+ rights have focused on a variety of areas, such as nondiscrimination laws, gay military service, and family matters such as adoption and marriage. Interestingly, although support for equality has remained the same in the United States, individuals have become rapidly more supportive of LGBT+ people securing equal rights in a variety of domains. There are three primary reasons for this shift: elite messaging, attributions of homosexuality, and contact with members of the LGBT+ community, both direct and indirect. These factors have led to an environment in which the value of equality is more readily applied to LGBT+ issues, therefore increasing support for these rights over time.
Elite messaging has played a key role in this shift. Across LGBT+ issues, equality frames are often countered with moral traditionalism, thus leading to an increased propensity for individuals to associate LGBT+ issues with these values. The effectiveness of equality frames has been bolstered by the growing belief that homosexuality is a fixed rather than chosen trait, which yields a greater reliance upon egalitarianism when evaluating LGBT+-related issues. At the same time, both direct and indirect contact with the LGBT+ community increased following the Stonewall Riots of 1969. Americans were first introduced to gay characters on television in the 1970s. LG characters gained more prominent roles throughout the 1990s on shows such as The Real World and Will and Grace. Following Stonewall, LGBT+ activist organizations also advocated that members of the community “come out of the closet” and reveal their sexual orientation to the people in their lives. Thus, the chances of Americans knowing—or at least feeling like they knew—an LGBT+ person increased. Consistent with Allport’s Contact Theory (1954) and Zajonc’s work on “mere exposure effects” (1968), affect toward LGBT+ individuals has generally grown more positive with greater interaction and familiarity. These various factors interacted with underlying predispositions to drastically move public opinion in favor of greater equality for LGBT+ people.
There is a great deal of research, spanning social psychology, sociology, and political science, on politically relevant attitudes toward women and the influence of gender on individual’s political decision making. First, there are several measures of attitudes toward women, including measures of sexism and gender role attitudes, such as the Attitudes Toward Women Scale, the Old-Fashioned Sexism Scale, the Modern Sexism Scale, and the Ambivalent Sexism Inventory. There are advantages and disadvantages of these existing measures. Moreover, there are important correlates and consequences of these attitudes. Correlates include education level and the labor force participation of one’s mother or spouse. The consequences of sexist and non-egalitarian gender role attitudes include negative evaluations of female candidates for political office and lower levels of gender equality at the state level. Understanding the sources and effects of attitudes toward women is relevant to public policy and electoral scholars.
Second, gender appears to have a strong effect on shaping men’s and women’s attitudes and political decisions. Gender differences in public opinion consistently arise across several issue areas, and there are consistent gender differences in vote choice and party identification. Various issues produce gender gaps, including the domestic and international use of force, compassion issues such as social welfare spending, equal rights, and government spending more broadly. Women are consistently more liberal on all of these policies. On average, women are more likely than men to vote for a Democratic Party candidate and identify as a Democrat. There is also a great deal of research investigating various origins of these gender differences. Comprehending when and why gender differences in political decision making emerge is important to policymakers, politicians, the political parties, and scholars.
Mark R. Hoffarth and Gordon Hodson
Intergroup relations and contact between groups has historically been considered a mechanism to promote support for LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender) rights. However, LGBT identities are often concealable, and stigma discourages members of the LGBT community from disclosing that they are LGBT, which may prevent contact. Some subsets of the LGBT population make up a small percentage of the overall population, which may also decrease the quantity of contact. As such, the process of coming out to friends, relatives, and coworkers has been a common strategy of the modern LGBT movement. The strategy could be effective because the intergroup contact literature has found support for intergroup contact decreasing prejudice in meta-analyses. At the same time, researchers have challenged the assertion that intergroup contact promotes social change because intergroup contact is sometimes negative, or may be impractical or avoided, positive attitudes can coincide with acceptance of inequality, and intergroup contact may have unintended negative side effects.
Research has generally found support for the notion that intergroup relations are more positive when there is greater contact. For LGBT people greater contact has been associated with decreasing anti-LGBT prejudice and increasing support for LGBT rights. However, similar to other domains of contact, the influence of LGBT contact is contextually sensitive, and a combination of psychological and structural barriers can decrease or prevent the positive effects of intergroup contact. There are strategies which may overcome these limitations, through policies (e.g., protection against discrimination), promoting types of contact that promote social change as opposed to merely positive attitudes, secondary transfer of contact effects, imagined contact, indirect forms of contact, and positive media representations of LGBT people. Gaps in the literature include a relative lack of research on contact with members of the LGBT community other than gays and lesbians (particularly non-cisgender people), intergroup contact between members of different subsets of the LGBT community, and a need for experimental and/or intervention-based research.
Anthony C. Lopez
The application of evolutionary theories or models to explain political decision making is quickly maturing, fundamentally interdisciplinary, and irreducibly complex. This hybridization has yielded significant benefits, including real progress toward understanding the conditions under which cooperation is possible, and a clearer understanding of the apparently “irrational” drivers of political violence.
Decision making requires a nervous system that conditions motivation and behavior upon adaptively relevant cues in the environment. Such systems do not exist because they maximize utility, enlightenment, or scientific truth; they exist because on average they led to outcomes that were reproductively beneficial in ancestral environments. The reproductive challenges faced by our ancestors included not only ecological problems of predator avoidance but also political problems such as inter-group threat and the distribution of resources within groups. Therefore, evolutionary approaches to political decision making require direct and deep engagement of the logic whereby natural selection builds adaptations. This view of human psychology yields valuable insights on the domain specificity of political decision making as well as the psychological consequences of mismatch between modern and ancestral environments. In other words, there is accumulating evidence that many of the complex adaptations of the human brain were designed to solve the many problems of ancestral politics.
This discussion begins by distinguishing evolutionary approaches from other frameworks used to explain political decision making, such as rational choice, or realism in international relations. Since evolutionary models of political decision making have now produced decades of original theoretical and empirical contributions, we are in a useful position to take stock of this research landscape. Doing so crystalizes the promises, perils, and scope of evolutionary approaches to politics.
K. Amber Curtis and Laura R. Olson
Religion is among the most powerful forces in the world and therefore one of the most prominent sources of both individual and group identification. Because of this, scholars have spent decades attempting to pinpoint its impact on numerous psychological, social, and political outcomes. A review of extant work shows religion in general (and religious identity in particular) affects mental and physical health; social relations, outgroup hostility, and conflict; and political attitudes and behavior.
Importantly, however, the social scientific study of religion has conceptualized and operationalized religious “identity” along different lines: sociologists and political scientists typically define it as religious affiliation (assessed demographically or by self-placement into nominal religious categories) or religiosity (based on one’s frequency of worship attendance and/or how personally “important” one feels religion is), while social psychologists show greater interest in how psychologically central religion is to one’s self-concept. These distinct approaches underscore that scholars have both meant disparate things by their usage of “identity” and “identification,” as well as measured each term in nonequivalent ways. Moving forward, greater interdisciplinary dialogue—and ideally the establishment of a common metric—would be beneficial in order to better isolate why religion is a more central social identity for some people than others; the extent to which identification with religion overlaps with religiosity; where religious identity fits in among the multitude of identity options with which citizens are confronted; and how the determinants of strong versus weak religious identification vary across person, context, and religious tradition.
People are strongly motivated to maintain psychological security, or equanimity, which causes them to process and act on information in ways that are favorable to protecting against anxiety (i.e., psychological “defense”). People rely on at least three interlocking mechanisms to maintain security—investment in social relationships, self-esteem, and meaningful worldviews—and these mechanisms perfuse nearly every aspect of life. By consequence, people’s political beliefs, attitudes, and leadership preferences reflect motivated efforts to maintain security. Research derived from terror management theory and related theories of security maintenance shows that security needs influence political decision making in three major ways. First, they amplify people’s affinity for political stances that affirm their preexisting worldviews and bolster their sense of belongingness, affiliation, and esteem. Second, security needs tend to draw people toward conservative viewpoints; however, a more potent consequence might be to harden or polarize existing political stances. Finally, security needs cause attraction to charismatic and powerful political personalities (i.e., politicians). Although the theoretical basis for these conclusions is strong, and there is research to support them, it remains challenging to apply this analysis to specific persons, situations, and political issues because it is not always clear which security-relevant facets within complex circumstances will be most salient or influential. Nevertheless, a security-based analysis of political decision making has impressive explanatory potential and helps observers to understand polarization and “tribal” tendencies in politics, among other things.
Despite the prominence of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) Americans and debates over LGBT rights in modern American politics, a substantial academic literature that examines their political attitudes has yet to develop. Prominent academic surveys have only relatively recently begun to ask respondent sexual orientation, though even the highest quality surveys that rely on random national samples still contain few LGBT respondents given their small share of the population. Further, questions about respondent gender identity are still largely absent in both academic and commercial surveys. As a result, systematic and deep knowledge about the contours of LGBT political attitudes and how they differ from those of non-LGBT Americans is understandably shallow.
However, existing surveys can provide a descriptive overview of the American LGBT community and its politics. Demographically, those who identify as gay, lesbian, or bisexual in surveys as of the mid- to late 2010s tend to be younger, disproportionately female, less religiously committed, less likely to be white, and somewhat lower income and more highly educated than those who identify as heterosexual. Given how these demographic tilts map onto modern political divides, it should not be a surprise that LGBT Americans skew more liberal and Democratic than others in their political orientations. When differences emerge between LGBT and non-LGBT Americans in their issue attitudes, LGBT respondents in surveys consistently tend toward more liberal-leaning opinions. However, this leftward tilt does not always place LGBT persons on the liberal side of issues on average, nor does it mean that LGBT and non-LGBT survey respondents are necessarily in opposition in the aggregate as oftentimes the difference between them is their degree of collective liberalism. Thus, the nature of these intergroup differences depends on the issue or set of issues under examination.
Existing data and research do have certain limitations that future research may improve upon. Given that most data on LGBT political attitudes comes from general population surveys of which LGBT respondents are only a small part, most current data do not strongly lend themselves to deeper analysis of subgroups within the LGBT community. Surveys specifically of LGBT people suggest important differences between gay men, lesbians, and bisexuals in how they view their identities as LGBT people and how they perceive how LGBT people fit into modern society, so future research may gather the data necessary to explore the consequences of these differences in political attitudes in greater depth. Also, there is substantial room for future research to explore the sources of LGBT political distinctiveness, and to what extent that distinctiveness stems from demographics, socialization, lived experience, psychology, or other factors.
Elizabeth A. Oldmixon
Churches are at the fulcrum of religious politics, and as church leaders, religious elites have an important role to play in the political milieu. They possess many of the resources associated with potent activism, but more importantly their job is to provide guidance to participants in a vast voluntary network. They can engage in agenda setting, encourage the faithful to apply their religious values to political engagement, and create opportunities to learn civic skills. Even so, religious leaders are subject to influence even as they try to exercise influence. In the foreground, religious leaders have a predictable set of goals, the substance of which varies by race, ethnicity, gender, and social theology. In the background, religious leaders pursue their goals in different sociodemographic and institutional contexts. The political behavior of religious leaders, then, is the product of background and foreground balancing.
Aubrey Westfall and Özge Çelik Russell
Religion is a central and comprehensive identity for billions of people all over the world. Politicians and other political actors recognize the vitality of religion and use it for political purposes, deliberately signaling religion, religiosity, or religious values and connecting them to political outcomes or behaviors in an effort to influence the political preferences of religious practitioners. The most efficient way to make the connection between religion and politics is through religious cues. Religious cues create information shortcuts linking religious identity or values with a political candidate or issue. Religious cues are used by political and religious actors in secular and religious contexts and are typically one of two general types: identity cues, which engage an individual’s religious identity and activate an in-group/out-group effect, and linkage cues, which link religious values or beliefs with an issue or candidate. Identity cues are particularly tricky to use in secular contexts because they have been shown to have strong alienating effects on nonreligious people, thereby defeating the intended purpose of the cue sender. For this reason, coded religious language called “implicit cues” is used with greater frequency in political discourse where only the religious cue receiver recognizes the religious cue for what it is. This strategy allows a political candidate to reap the benefits of the cue without risking alienation.
While scholars have made substantial progress in using experimental methods to disentangle the ways religious cues influence political behavior, there is ample opportunity for more research exploring different types of religious cues and the way they interact with other forms of cues and identities. Furthermore, most of the research on religious cues has focused on Christian cues in the United States, and a more diverse range of religions and contexts should be explored to understand the way religious cues influence political behavior. Researchers should also expand the definition of “religious practitioners” to explore how religious cues influence the growing number of people who do not affiliate with a religion or engage in practices traditionally associated with religiosity but do identify as religious. This would help to expand conceptualization of political behavior to more accurately reflect lived political experiences. Embracing these opportunities will allow the scholarly community to gain a better understanding of the varied political dynamics of religious cueing, which offers insights into how fundamental identities and attitudes are linked, thereby shedding more light on the complex dynamics of political behavior.
Leonie Huddy and Alexa Bankert
Partisanship remains a powerful influence on political behavior within developed and developing democracies, but there remains a lively debate on its nature, origins, and measurement. In this debate, political scientists draw on social identity theory to clarify the nature of partisanship and its political consequences in the United States and other developed and developing democracies. In particular, social identity theory has been used to develop an expressive model of partisanship, which stands in contrast to an instrumental model grounded in ideological and policy considerations. Included here are a discussion of the key motivational and cognitive components of social identity theory and an explanation of how the theory can be applied to the study of partisanship. The focus is on the measurement of partisanship, its social nature, its origins in convergent identities, and its ability to generate strong emotions and drive political engagement. Lastly, areas for future partisanship research are discussed. These areas include the study of negative partisan identities, coalitional identities in multiparty systems, and the political situations in which expressive and instrumental aspects of partisanship are most common.
Sabine C. Carey and Neil J. Mitchell
Pro-government militias are a prominent feature of civil wars. Governments in Colombia, Syria, and Sudan recruit irregular forces in their armed struggle against insurgents. The United States collaborated with Awakening groups to counter the insurgency in Iraq, just as colonizers used local armed groups to fight rebellions in their colonies. An emerging cross-disciplinary literature on pro-government non-state armed groups generates a variety of research questions for scholars interested in conflict, political violence, and political stability: Does the presence of such groups indicate a new type of conflict? What are the dynamics that drive governments to align with informal armed groups and that make armed groups choose to side with the government? Given the risks entailed in surrendering a monopoly of violence, is there a turning point in a conflict when governments enlist these groups? How successful are these groups? Why do governments use these non-state armed actors to shape foreign conflicts whether as insurgents or counterinsurgents abroad? Are these non-state armed actors always useful to governments or perhaps even an indicator for state failure?
We examine the demand for and supply of pro-government armed groups and the legacies that shape their role in civil wars. The enduring pattern of collaboration between governments and these armed non-state actors challenges conventional theory and the idea of an evolutionary process of the modern state consolidating the means of violence. Research on these groups and their consequences began with case studies, and these continue to yield valuable insights. More recently, survey work and cross-national quantitative research contribute to our knowledge. This mix of methods is opening new lines of inquiry for research on insurgencies and the delivery of the core public good of effective security.
Barrett Scroggs and Debra McKnight
Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) individuals have historically been considered non-religious. This disconnect has typically been due to the anti-LGBTQ stances that many religions have taken. However, as many Christian denominations begin to take more open and progressive stances on issues related to sexuality, gender, and identity, there are some in the LGBTQ community who desire and are able to reconcile their LGBTQ and religious identities. This is especially true for members of the LGBTQ community who grew up in Christian spaces. Prior research has explored LGBTQ participation in religious communities and has found that participation in these activities has positive implications for the well-being of the LGBTQ community. However, despite the growing number of Christian churches welcoming members of the LGBTQ community, the literature has not explored the implications for LGBTQ collective action and civic behavior within the context of progressive church communities.
Participation in social justice work, whether in formal or informal ways, can offer individuals an altruistic outlet to become actively involved in causes impacting the world around them. This social justice work may include attending a justice-themed rally, volunteering for an organization promoting equality, or engaging in dialogue with others to promote a justice-themed cause. Social justice work like this can be a form of activism, which has been found to be an important stage of LGBTQ identity development. Prior research has found that higher levels of minority group identification are associated with a higher likelihood of participation in collective action and that higher levels of church attendance are associated with higher levels of civic participation. The church has historically been a space for social justice behavior and thus can connect LGBTQ individuals to a deeper passion for social justice and civic behavior. Members of the LGBTQ community are able to reconcile their LGBTQ and religious identities. And through the connection to a church, they can engage in collective action connected to LGBTQ-related and other issues (e.g., women’s rights, the environment, poverty, immigration, and housing).
Ashley Jardina and Spencer Piston
A great deal of work in the domain of race and politics has focused on two phenomena: racial prejudice and racial solidarity. Scholarship on racial prejudice has primarily examined the nature and consequences of white racial animus, particularly toward blacks. In the latter half of the 20th century, in the post-Civil Rights era, scholars argued that racial prejudice had been transformed, as most whites rejected the belief that there were innate, biological differences between racial groups. Instead, whites came to embrace the belief that blacks did not subscribe to particular cultural values associated with the protestant work ethic. While these attitudes profoundly shape public opinion and political behavior in the United States, we suspect that there has been a resurgence in the belief that consequential biological differences between racial groups exist, and that biological racism is a growing force in American politics. Most of the development of work on racial consciousness has examined the effects of racial solidarity among racial and ethnic minorities on public opinion. Individuals’ psychological attachments to their racial group are an important element in American politics, and their importance may increase as the country becomes more racially and ethnically diverse.
Ray Block Jr.
Simply defined, stereotypes are commonly-held beliefs about groups of people. Racial stereotypes are the widely shared perceptions that people have about certain social groups and the individuals who are members of those groups. To understand the large and growing literature on racial stereotypes, it is useful to organize this body of research by whether stereotypes are being explored as dependent variables or as independent variables. When the focus is on dependent variables, scholars investigate why racial stereotypes exist and how they work. Conversely, the work on stereotypes as independent variables emphasizes their influence on both attitudinal and behavioral outcomes. Special attention should also be paid to the stereotypes that are often applied to people who exist at the intersections of multiple racial, ethnic, gender, and sexuality groups (for example, those attributed female and non-binary persons of color).
The representativeness heuristic was defined by Kahneman and Tversky as a decision-making shortcut in which people judge probabilities “by the degree to which A is representative of B, that is, by the degree to which A resembles B.” People who use this cognitive shortcut bypass more detailed processing of the likelihood of the event in question but instead focus on what (stereotypic) category it appears to fit and the associations they have about that category. Simply put: If it looks like a duck, it probably is a duck. The representativeness heuristic usually works well and provides valid inferences about likelihood. This is why political scientists saw it as an important part of a solution to an enduring problem in their field: How can people make political decisions when so many studies show they lack even basic knowledge about politics? According to these scholars, voters do not need to be aware of all actions and opinions of a political candidate running for office. To make up their mind on who to vote for, they can rely on cues that represent the performance and issue position of candidates, such as the party they are affiliated with, their ranking in the polls, and whether (for instance) they act/appear presidential. In other words, they need to answer the question: Does this candidate fit my image of a successful president? The resulting low-information rationality provides voters with much confidence in their voting decision, even though they do not know all the details about the history of each candidate. Using heuristics allows relatively uninformed citizens to act as if they were fully informed.
Despite this optimistic view of heuristics at their introduction to the discipline, they originated from research showing how heuristic use is accompanied by systematic error. Tversky and Kahneman argue that using the representativeness heuristic leads to an overreliance on similarity to a category and a neglect of prior probability, sample size, and the reliability and validity of the available cue. Kuklinsky and Quirk first warned about the potential effect of these biases in the context of political decision-making. Current research often examines the effects of specific cues/stereotypes, like party, gender, race, class, or more context-specific heuristics like the deservingness heuristic. Another strand of research has started exploring the effect of the representativeness heuristic on decision-making by political elites, rather than voters. Future studies can integrate these findings to work toward a fuller understanding of the effects of the representativeness heuristic in political decision-making, more closely consider individual differences and the effects of different contexts, and map the consequences that related systematic biases might have.
The idea of satisficing as a decision rule began with Herbert Simon. Simon was dissatisfied with the increasingly dominant notion of individuals as rational decision-makers who choose alternatives that maximize expected utility on two grounds. First, he viewed the maximizing account of decision-making as unrealistic given that individuals have cognitive limitations and varying motivations that limit cognitive ability and effort. Second, he argued that individuals do not even choose alternatives as if they are maximizing (i.e., that the maximizing account has predictive validity). Instead, he offered a theory of individuals as satisficers: decision-makers who consider a limited number of alternatives, expending limited cognitive effort, until they find one that is “good enough.” At this point, he argued, the consideration of alternatives stops.
The satisficing decision rule has influenced several subfields of political science. They include elite decision-making on military conflicts, the economy, and public policy; ideas of what the mass public needs to know about politics and the extent to which deficits in political knowledge are consequential; and understanding of survey responses and survey design. Political and social psychologists have also taken Simon’s idea and argued that satisficing rather than maximizing is a personality trait—stable characteristics of individuals that make them predisposed toward one or other type of alternative search when making decisions. Research in these subfields additionally raises normative questions about the extent to which satisficing is not only a common way of making decisions but a desirable one. Satisficing seems superior to maximizing in several respects. For example, it has positive effects on aspects of decision-makers’ well-being and is more likely to result in individuals voting their interests in elections.
There are, however, a number of directions in which future research on satisficing could be taken forward. These include a fuller incorporation of the interaction of affect and cognition, clearer tests of alternative explanations to satisficing, and more focus and understanding on the effects of the Internet and the “information age.”
Ewa A. Golebiowska
Public opinion on LGBT Americans’ rights has become more supportive of equal treatment over time. The movement toward greater egalitarianism has been particularly pronounced on attitudes toward same-sex marriage and gay adoption. Today, the general public is overwhelmingly supportive of laws to protect gays and lesbians against job discrimination, the right of gay and lesbian couples to adopt children, and legal recognition of same-sex marriages. It is also overwhelmingly supportive of legal protections for gay and lesbian employees, although we do not know whether abstract support for equality in the workplace translates into support for the hiring of gays and lesbians in all occupations. Yet, many questions concerning LGBT Americans’ rights remain controversial. The general public is especially polarized on the questions of whether transgender individuals should be able to use the bathrooms of the gender with which they identify and whether business owners in the wedding services industry can discriminate against same-sex couples on religious grounds.
Systematic research on political attitudes of LGBT individuals using probability samples is practically nonexistent, although there are many studies of lesbians, gays, and bisexuals’ attitudes, identities, and behavior that use convenience samples. The existing studies demonstrate that lesbians, gay men, and bisexuals tend to identify as ideologically liberal and favor the Democratic Party in their affinities and votes. LGBT Americans are far more supportive of equality in all issue domains although bisexuals—compared to lesbians and gay men—are more lukewarm in their embrace of equality on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.
Scholarship on LGBT Americans in public opinion has primarily explored attitudes toward gays and lesbians and has tended to focus on attitudes toward same-sex marriage and adoption. It examines psychological, political, and demographic correlates of public opinion regarding LGBT individuals and explores links between interpersonal contact with LGBT individuals and attitudes toward them. Generally speaking, moral traditionalism, gender role conceptions, and attributions for the existence of homosexuality are especially important psychological predictors of attitudes toward sexual and gender identity minorities. Partisan and ideological identities play an important role too as do cues from ideologically compatible political elites. Of the several demographic attributes that researchers have included in their models, religion-related variables stand out for their predictive prowess. Finally, interpersonal contact with sexual and gender minorities, as well as community exposure to LGBT individuals, is associated with more favorable views toward them.
Another yardstick by which commitment to equal treatment for LGBT Americans could be measured is whether and how sexual orientation and gender identity influence political fortunes of candidates for electoral office. Scholarship to date suggests that sexual orientation and gender identity function as important heuristics that influence voters’ thinking about LGBT candidacies. Some scholarship mines survey questions that inquire about respondents’ willingness to support hypothetical LGBT candidates for office. Others use experimental design to isolate the influences of sexual orientation and gender identity on political evaluation. Altogether, these studies demonstrate that LGBT individuals do not face a level playing field when they launch campaigns for office.
Deborah Welch Larson
Social identity theory (SIT) from social psychology provides a means to explore the influence of identity and status concerns on foreign policy. The theory argues that groups are motivated to achieve a positively distinctive identity. Groups compare themselves to a similar but slightly higher reference group. Inferiority on important dimensions may lead to the adoption of an identity management strategy: social mobility (emulating the higher-status group to gain admission), social competition (striving to equal or surpass the dominant group), or social creativity (revaluing an ostensibly negative characteristic as positive or identifying an alternative dimension on which the group is superior).
Applied to international relations, states may pursue social mobility by emulating the values and practices of higher-status states in order to be admitted to a higher standing, much as Eastern Europe did in seeking admission into the European Union after the end of the Cold War. If elite groups are impermeable to new members, and the status hierarchy is perceived to be unstable or illegitimate, aspiring powers may engage in social competition, which usually entails territorial conquest and military displays. During the Cold War, the Soviet Union sought to catch up with and surpass the capitalist states. If elite clubs are not permeable, but the status hierarchy is stable, states may seek status through social creativity—either reframing a negative trait as positive or seeking preeminence in a domain apart from geopolitical competition. Social creativity may entail creating new international institutions, promoting new norms, or engaging in major diplomatic initiatives in order to increase the state’s prestige.
Research applying SIT to international relations has addressed the question of whether anarchy necessarily leads to conflict between states, the diffusion of values, the selection of an identity discourse on the domestic level, and state efforts at moral leadership.
Critics have charged that SIT does not clearly predict which identity management strategy will be chosen in a given situation. From a realist perspective, the selection of a strategy for enhancing a state’s status is constrained by geographic position, size, and natural endowments. But this argument does not take into consideration the availability of social mobility and social creativity as ways to achieve status that do not depend on relative military power.
Stereotypes are overgeneralized, often inaccurate, characterizations of a group and its members. Because stereotypes rely on heuristics, they can occur unconsciously and shape behavior in multiple ways. People may stereotype in order to quickly characterize a person or a group of people, or they may be motivated to deliberately stereotype in order to maintain their own self-esteem and sense of self-worth. Stereotypes can undermine many facets of our behavior and beliefs, including how we make political decisions. For example, people who stereotype women as being nurturing and in need of protection may be less inclined to vote for a women running for a leadership position. Because stereotypes are so pervasive and learned early, they can be particularly difficult to reduce or eliminate, and people will often look for evidence to support their attitudes rather than actively challenging the stereotype. However, stereotype reduction is possible and can be done both consciously and unconsciously.