Hajo G. Boomgaarden and Rüdiger Schmitt-Beck
Media are key for the functioning of democracy. It is the essential link between politics and citizens, providing critical information and interpretation of politics and room for debate. Given this central role of the media for democratic political processes, questions about how mediated political information would affect citizens’ perceptions of and attitudes toward politics, as well as ultimately political behavior, have been dominant in research in the field of political communication. While vast amounts of mid-range theories and empirical insights speak in favor of influences of media on citizens, there is little in terms of a universal theoretical framework guiding political media effects research, which makes it difficult to give a conclusive answer to the question: how and, in particular, how much do the media matter? It may matter for some people under some conditions in some contexts relating to some outcome variables. Technological changes in media systems pose additional challenges, both conceptually and methodologically, to come to comprehensive assessments of media influences on citizens’ political cognitions, attitudes, or behaviors. Research needs to be clearer as to which conceptualization of media is followed and how such conceptualization may interact with other dimensions of media attributes. Measurement of media use and reception needs to take into account the increasing complexities of how citizens encounter political information, and it requires alignment with the conceptualization of media. Political media effect theories should not continue developing side by side, but should attempt to find a place in a more comprehensive model and take into account how they relate to and possibly interact with other approaches. In sum, the field of political media effects, while vast and covering a range of aspects, would do well to consider its role and purpose in increasingly complex media environments and, accordingly, provide more integrative perspectives, conceptually, methodologically, and theoretically.
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.