Book chapter

Political Attitudes and Behaviors of LGBT People in the United States (2020)

in: Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Politics

Abstract

Despite the prominence of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) Americans and debates over LGBT rights in modern American politics, a substantial academic literature that examines their political attitudes has yet to develop. Prominent academic surveys have only relatively recently begun to ask respondent sexual orientation, though even the highest quality surveys that rely on random national samples still contain few LGBT respondents given their small share of the population. Further, questions about respondent gender identity are still largely absent in both academic and commercial surveys. As a result, systematic and deep knowledge about the contours of LGBT political attitudes and how they differ from those of non-LGBT Americans is understandably shallow.However, existing surveys can provide a descriptive overview of the American LGBT community and its politics. Demographically, those who identify as gay, lesbian, or bisexual in surveys as of the mid- to late 2010s tend to be younger, disproportionately female, less religiously committed, less likely to be white, and somewhat lower income and more highly educated than those who identify as heterosexual. Given how these demographic tilts map onto modern political divides, it should not be a surprise that LGBT Americans skew more liberal and Democratic than others in their political orientations. When differences emerge between LGBT and non-LGBT Americans in their issue attitudes, LGBT respondents in surveys consistently tend toward more liberal-leaning opinions. However, this leftward tilt does not always place LGBT persons on the liberal side of issues on average, nor does it mean that LGBT and non-LGBT survey respondents are necessarily in opposition in the aggregate as oftentimes the difference between them is their degree of collective liberalism. Thus, the nature of these intergroup differences depends on the issue or set of issues under examination.Existing data and research do have certain limitations that future research may improve upon. Given that most data on LGBT political attitudes comes from general population surveys of which LGBT respondents are only a small part, most current data do not strongly lend themselves to deeper analysis of subgroups within the LGBT community. Surveys specifically of LGBT people suggest important differences between gay men, lesbians, and bisexuals in how they view their identities as LGBT people and how they perceive how LGBT people fit into modern society, so future research may gather the data necessary to explore the consequences of these differences in political attitudes in greater depth. Also, there is substantial room for future research to explore the sources of LGBT political distinctiveness, and to what extent that distinctiveness stems from demographics, socialization, lived experience, psychology, or other factors.