Book chapter

Elections and the Role of LGBT Issues in the United States and Abroad (2020)

in: Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Politics

Abstract

LGBT issues have played an important role in elections. They have been the focus of direct democracy, that is referenda and ballot initiatives in which citizens voted on LGBT rights. The issues considered evolved over time from nondiscrimination ordinances in the 1970s to same-sex marriage bans in the 2000s and transgender rights in the 2010s. Religiosity, partisanship, and ideology generally predicted electoral outcomes. While supporters of LGBT rights have often been defeated at the ballot box, the tide started to change in the 2010s. Beyond direct democracy, LGBT issues have played a role in general elections. The religious right exploited them to mobilize the conservative electorate or to persuade voters to reconsider their party loyalties. The 2004 US presidential election, when same-sex marriage bans were on the ballot in several states, offers an important case study. LGBT actors are also important in elections. LGB voters have generally been more progressive and more supportive of the Democratic Party than the general population. Additionally, the number of openly LGBT candidates has significantly grown over time. In the early years, gays and lesbians running for office faced an electoral penalty but made up for their disadvantage by strategically competing in more favorable districts. By the late 2010s, however, large subsets of the electorate, including Democrats, progressives, nonreligious voters, and people with LGBT friends no longer penalized gay and lesbian candidates. The penalty remained stronger for transgender candidates. LGBT issues have also been important outside the United States, as shown by same-sex marriage referenda in Europe and beyond and by the increasing success of lesbian and gay candidates in the United Kingdom and New Zealand. Future research should explore issues concerning minorities in the LGBT community, the shifting position of right-wing parties on LGBT rights, and the role of LGBT issues and candidates in elections outside the Western world.