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.
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.
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.
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.