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Article

Political Culture in Latin America  

Elizabeth J. Zechmeister and Daniela Osorio Michel

Political culture in Latin America leans democratic and participatory. Even amid institutional backsliding in the early 21st century, most leaders assume office and claim their mandate via elections. However, in the face of significant governance challenges, reservations regarding democracy and democratic processes are on the rise. In 2014, 68% of individuals in the average Latin American country expressed support for democracy. Five years later, in 2019, that figure was 58%. Support for state-led redistribution declined during this period as well. In brief, there are signs that the public is moving away from a social democratic orientation. Generalizations about political culture risk overlooking significant heterogeneity in Latin American beliefs and inclinations. Survey data, especially from comparative projects, permit assessments of the region’s political culture across time, countries, and population subgroups. Analyses of these data paint an appropriately nuanced portrait of Latin American political culture. Support for core democratic values is highest in the Southern Cone countries of Uruguay, Argentina, and Chile. Support for democratic institutions and processes is far lower in countries that have experienced recent instability and governance challenges, including Honduras and Peru. In Latin America, the young tend to be less committed to democratic institutions and processes. Those in rural areas tend to be more inclined to engage in local politics. Those who are poor tend to perceive themselves as less capable of understanding key national issues. Finally, women tend to be politically more conservative. How people in the region believe politics ought to be organized and function—that is, political culture in Latin America—matters. This is because the public’s inclinations to express core democratic values and to engage in the system shape political outcomes. Where individuals lack confidence in the democratic state, they are less prone to support it. Further, they are more likely to issue demands, and to look for leadership, outside of formal political channels. The comparatively low and decreasing levels of support for democracy place Latin America at a crossroads. Failure to meet key governance challenges—corruption, inequality, crime—could accelerate declines in confidence and interest in participatory democracy, to the detriment of political culture and democratic consolidation in Latin America.

Article

Public Opinion Toward LGBT People and Rights in Latin America and the Caribbean  

Enrique Chaux, Manuela León, Lina Cuellar, and Juliana Martínez

Important changes toward more acceptance of homosexuality seem to be occurring in many countries around the world. However, large differences exist between individuals, societal groups, countries, and regions in attitudes toward homosexuality. Countries in Latin America and the Caribbean (LatAmC) are not an exception in either of these trends. More positive attitudes toward homosexuality in LatAmC countries and significant legal and political changes in favor of LBGT rights have been occurring in the region since the third wave of democratization in the 1980s. Nonetheless, there are important limitations to these advancements: they are highly uneven; they are fragile and likely to become targets of politically motivated public outrage; enforcement is irregular and often faces hostile resistance from the civil servants appointed to enact and uphold them; and LGBT individuals continue to face high levels of violence, making the region one of the deadliest for sexual and gender minorities, particularly trans women. Analyses from two large surveys, conducted periodically in several LatAmC countries, which include questions about homophobic attitudes (the International Civic and Citizenship Education Study, or ICCS, and the Latin American Public Opinion Project, or LAPOP) show a clear historical pattern of increased acceptance toward homosexuality in most countries. They also reveal large differences between countries with high (e.g., Uruguay) or low (e.g., Haiti) levels of acceptance of homosexuality. Multiple variables are associated with these differences. In almost all countries, women and more educated, less religious, and more politically active participants show more positive attitudes toward homosexuality than men and less educated, more religious (especially evangelical) and less politically involved participants. The analysis of attitudes toward homosexuality in LatAmC shows that (a) change in attitudes at a large scale is possible and is occurring relatively fast in LatAmC; (b) some countries are greatly lagging behind in these changes, especially in the Caribbean; and (c) policies and programs are urgently needed in the region, not only to facilitate changes in those countries where homophobic attitudes are still very common, but also to consolidate changes that have already been occurring.

Article

Surveys and the Study of Latin American Politics  

Ryan E. Carlin

To understand Latin American politics, one must view it through the eyes and minds of Latin Americans. Since the middle of the 20th century, pollsters in academia, government, and industry have fielded public opinion surveys in an attempt to do just that. Although they are not typically considered political institutions, polls and surveys influence a variety of political processes directly and indirectly thanks to the legitimacy they enjoy among academics, policymakers, and publics. Large strides have been made toward making surveys more methodologically rigorous and toward improving the quality of survey data in the region. Scholars have leveraged the data to advance the theoretical understanding of a range of topics, especially political support, partisanship, and voting behavior. Despite these gains, public opinion surveys face clear challenges that threaten their hard-won legitimacy. To the extent that these challenges are met in the coming decades, public opinion polling’s role in shaping Latin American politics will remain, if not strengthen.

Article

African Attitudes Toward Same-Sex Relationships, 1982–2018  

Kim Yi Dionne and Boniface Dulani

One significant barrier to sexual minority rights in Africa is the generally negative attitudes ordinary Africans have toward same-sex relationships. Yet since 1998, there has been notable progress in terms of legalizing same-sex relationships on the continent, with Botswana the most recent African country to do so, in 2019. Botswana joins Angola, Cape Verde, Guinea Bissau, Lesotho, Mozambique, São Tomé and Príncipe, Seychelles, and South Africa, among countries that have decriminalized same-sex relationships. Publicly available cross-national survey data measuring citizen’s attitudes toward homosexuality in 41 African countries from 1982 to 2018 shows that, on average, Africans hold negative attitudes toward same-sex relationships, which is consistent with previous reports. However, there is variation in these attitudes, suggesting greater tolerance of sexual minorities among women, people who use the Internet more frequently, and urban residents. One key finding is that homophobia is not universal in Africa. In light of recent policy and legal developments advancing sexual minority rights, and given findings in existing scholarship highlighting the influence politicians have in politicizing homophobia, the literature questioning the generalized notion of a “homophobic Africa” is growing, and there are calls for more research on the factors influencing decriminalization.

Article

Attitudes Toward LGBT People and Rights in Africa  

Jocelyn M. Boryczka

Capturing the nuanced attitudes toward LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender) people and rights in Africa involves examining them from within and outside the African context. Constructions of the entire African continent as holding negative attitudes toward LGBT peoples and denying them any rights remain quite commonplace across the Global North. However, closer analysis of specific nation-states and regions complicates our understanding of LGBT people and rights in Africa. Advances in the global study of LGBT attitudes through tools such as the Global LGBTI Inclusion Index and the Global Acceptance Index survey African peoples’ beliefs about LGBT communities. These measures locate African attitudes about LGBT peoples within a comparative context to decenter assumptions and many inaccurate, often colonialist, constructions. Attitudinal measures also expose the gap between legislation securing formal rights and the beliefs driving peoples’ everyday practices. These measures further specify how African governments can, often in response to Western political and economic forces, leverage homophobia on a national level to serve their interests despite a misalignment with the population’s attitudes toward LGBT peoples. Nongovernmental organizations and advocates raise awareness about LGBT rights and issues to impact socialization processes that shape these attitudes to generate political, social, and economic change. A rights-based approach and research on attitudes emerging from the African context represent shifts critical to better understanding how LGBT peoples and rights can be more effectively advanced across the continent.

Article

LGBTQ Politics in Media and Culture  

Thomas J. Billard and Larry Gross

As the primary vector by which society tells itself about itself, popular media transmit ideas of what behavior is acceptable and whose identities are legitimate, thereby perpetuating and, at times, transforming the social order. Thus, media have been key targets of LGBT advocacy and activism and important contributors to the political standing of LGBT people. Of course, media are not a monolith, and different types of media inform different parts of society. Community media have been an important infrastructure through which gays and lesbians and, separately, transgender people formed shared identities and developed collective political consciousness. Political media, such as newspapers, news websites, and network and cable television news broadcasts, inform elites and the mass public alike, making them an important influence on public opinion and political behavior. Entertainment media, such as television and film, cultivate our culture’s shared values and ideas, which infuse into the public’s political beliefs and attitudes. Generally speaking, the literature on LGBTQ politics and the media is biased toward news and public affairs media over fictional and entertainment media, though both are important influences on LGBTQ citizens’ political engagement, as well as on citizens’ public opinion toward LGBTQ rights and their subsequent political behaviors. In the case of the former, media—particularly LG(BT) community media—have played an important role in facilitating the formation of a shared social and then political identity, as well as fueling the formation of, first, separate gay and lesbian and transgender movements and then a unified LGBTQ movement. Moreover, digital media have enabled new modes of political organizing and exercising sociopolitical influence, making LGBTQ activism more diverse, more intersectional, more pluralistic, and more participatory. In the case of the latter, (news) media representations of LGBTQ individuals initially portrayed them in disparaging and disrespectful ways. Over time, representations in both news and entertainment media have come to portray them in ways that legitimate their identities and their political claims. These representations, in turn, have had profound impacts on public opinion toward LGBTQ rights and citizens’ LGBTQ-relevant voting behavior. Yet, the literature on these representations and their effects overwhelmingly focuses on gays and lesbians at the expense of bisexual and transgender people, and this work is done primarily in U.S. and Anglophone contexts, limiting our understanding of the relationships between LGBTQ politics and the media globally.

Article

Direct Democracy and Political Decision Making  

Shaun Bowler, Reagan Dobbs, and Stephen Nicholson

Direct democracy in the United States is the process whereby voters decide the fate of laws, through either an initiative or a referendum. Initiatives allow voters to approve or reject a policy proposal, whereas referendums permit voters to decide the fate of laws passed by the legislature. Although some high-profile ballot measures, especially those related to ‘moral’ issues, may induce people to vote, most ballot measures are unfamiliar to voters and so have a limited effect on participation. Rather than mobilizing voters, the more choice confronting voters faced with ballot measures is whether to “roll-off” or abstain from voting on them. The subsequent decision, how to vote, is intimately related to the decision over whether to vote and is largely motivated by the same factors. In deciding whether and how to vote, voters must know what a ballot measure is about, discern the political motivation underlying it, and match that information to their political predispositions to cast a Yes or No vote; otherwise they abstain. The more voters know about a given proposition, the more likely it is that they will vote and, furthermore, that the vote they do cast will reflect their underlying political values. In contrast both to the claims made by many critics of direct democracy and, also, some current studies in political science, votes in direct democracy are often underpinned by substantive, policy-based considerations. Voters are thus capable of meaningfully participating in the direct democracy process.

Article

Attitudes Toward LGBT People and Their Rights in Europe  

Kath Wilson

Attitudes toward LGBT people have changed in Europe since the 1990s; there is generally much more tolerance and acceptance. Evidence drawn from surveys and research projects including the European Social Survey, European Values Study, and Pew Research Center illustrate the types of attitudes that have changed, and in which European countries change has occurred. A comparison of attitudes and tolerance across Europe indicates that some countries and groups of countries are more accepting of LGBT people. North-western European nations appear high in the tolerance rankings of trend surveys, while more easterly European nations have not always followed this progression. Indeed, in cases such as Russia and Chechnya, “propaganda laws” have denied LGBT people basic human rights. Hostility toward and violence against LGBT people is perpetrated with seeming impunity in these areas. Factors that influence attitudes toward LGBT people and their rights include democracy and economic development, religiosity, global forces, and degrees of contact. There is a clear link between legislation and attitudes; in countries where legislation is in place and, for example, where same-sex marriage is legal, surveys overwhelmingly show a higher acceptance of LGBT people. Legislation is a powerful influence in shaping social attitudes, so it is important to consider the legislation adopted by various European countries. Institutions such as the European Union are effective in providing protections for LGBT citizens as well as leading on areas such as the Common European Asylum System (CEAS). There has been “pushback” in terms of change and one of the more contested areas is same-sex marriage. While the trend since the late 20th century has seemed to be toward introducing same-sex marriage, a number of countries, largely in Eastern Europe, have introduced constitutional bans on same-sex marriage, defining marriage as solely between a man and woman. The position of trans and non-binary people is particularly perilous since there is very little legislative protection in place for them. There has been a positive change in attitudes and legislation across Europe which has enhanced the lived lives of LGBT people; these changes, however, have not been even or uniform across the area.

Article

Attitudes toward LGBT Rights: Political Tolerance and Egalitarian Values in the United States  

Andrew R. Flores

Attitudes towards political groups and their rights are often shaped by the core values held by individuals. In reference to LGBT people and their rights, research has often shown that core values play a role in understanding affect towards the group and related policies. Values such as moral traditionalism and egalitarianism have long been understood to be determinants of people’s attitudes toward LGBT rights. LGBT issues are framed relying on competing value frames, which change in their dominance over time. However, core values tend to be stable but American attitudes toward LGBT people and rights have undergone sharp increases in their favorability. One explanation for this change is an increasing political tolerance among the American public. Political tolerance is the degree to which the public supports the civil liberties of members of different social groups, and it is distinct though related to attitudes on LGBT issues of equality (e.g., marriage equality). Political tolerance encompasses attitudes toward the rights for LGBT people to exercise their free speech, political and social organization, and live free from government intrusion. In the US, adults have consistently expressed greater political tolerance for lesbian and gay people than issues of LGBT equality. Political tolerance toward lesbian and gay people has increased since the 1970s, but egalitarian values have remained rather stagnant. The effect of egalitarian values on political tolerance for lesbian and gay people was stronger in earlier years, and as Americans have become more tolerant of lesbian and gay people, the role of egalitarianism in affecting political tolerance has diminished. There are limitations of existing data, especially regarding the political tolerance of bisexuals, transgender people, and others who are generally considered to be within the broader LGBT community.

Article

Attitudes Toward Homosexuality and LGBT People: Causal Attributions for Sexual Orientation  

Peter Hegarty

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.