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Electoral Choice and Religion: United States  

Jeremiah J. Castle

Scholars have identified a variety of mechanisms through which religion could impact vote choice in the United States. Researchers have long recognized that, like other social identities, religion is an important factor in the development of party identification. In the United States, evangelical Protestants and highly committed members of other religious traditions tend to favor the Republican Party, while seculars and low-commitment members of other religious traditions tend to favor the Democratic Party. Religion also impacts views on a variety of issues, including abortion, social welfare policy, and foreign affairs. Under the right circumstances, religious voters may incorporate these policy positions into their vote choice. Finally, a growing body of research recognizes that voters use a candidate’s religious views as a heuristic to infer partisanship, ideology, competence, trustworthiness, and a variety of other traits. Given these numerous paths of influence, it is no surprise that researchers regularly find that religion is an important factor in electoral choice. Researchers have also identified a variety of ways in which religion can impact turnout, thereby creating a second means for religion to influence American elections. Religion helps in the development of social networks and civic skills, thus reducing the costs of political participation. Religion can also be a factor in the development of sociopsychological traits such as threat, thereby facilitating mobilization. By understanding the capacity of religion to impact both turnout and electoral choice, scholars can better understand the myriad ways in which religion influences elections in the United States.

Article

Party Politics and LGBT Issues in the United States  

Melissa R. Michelson and Elizabeth Schmitt

Political parties are a core feature of the American political system, and partisan identification is a major determinant of both individual attitudes and political behavior. Since the beginning of the 21st century, the major political parties in the United States have become increasingly polarized, and partisan affect has intensified, with individuals more hostile toward the opposing party. This increased polarization and tendency to follow elite cues has also affected LGBT politics. Among openly LGBT candidates for political office, almost all have run as Democrats. In June 2018 only 2.9% of openly LGBT elected officials in the country were affiliated with the Republican Party. Outreach to LGBT voters by Democratic candidates has increased over time; in contrast, Republican candidates have been generally hostile to LGBT people and issues. This growing gap in outreach is reflected in vote choice patterns. Since 1988, at least two-thirds of LGBT voters have supported the Democratic nominee for president. In the 2016 election, 78% of LGBT voters supported the Democratic nominee for president, Hillary Clinton, while only 14% supported Republican Donald Trump. In the 2018 midterm elections LGBT voters favored Democratic candidates by a margin of 82% to 17%. LGBT interest groups also tend to be affiliated with the Democratic Party, with the notable exception of the Log Cabin Republicans. Until the 1990s, most straight Americans were not interested in or aware of LGBT public policy issues, but today the members of both political parties reflect the increased partisan polarization of the country. Democrats are more likely to support same-sex relationships and marriage, laws protecting LGBT people from discrimination, transgender rights, and other supportive policies; Republicans, in contrast, are more opposed to those policies and support religious exemptions from antidiscrimination laws. This increased sorting among the LGBT public reflects an increasingly salient national divide between the two major political parties, including their understandings of LGBT identity. Democrats have for several decades understood LGBT identity as permanent (that people are born that way) and thus deserving of maximum legal protection. In contrast, many more Republicans understand LGBT as a choice or as a result of one’s upbringing and environment and thus not a basis for claims for equal rights. This represents a shift over time; in 1977, only 13% of Americans believed that homosexuality was something that people were born with. As more Americans became familiar with the science demonstrating that being gay is genetic and not a “lifestyle choice,” a partisan split emerged. Scholarship suggests partisanship is likely driving acceptance of the science. Regardless of the cause of the partisan split on the nature vs. nurture debate on LGBT identity, that split is reflected in the increasingly large differences between representation of LGBT people in elected office, in party support for LGBT policies, and in LGBT partisanship.

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.