Editors' Note: Guest blogger Andrew R. Flores is the Public Opinion Project Director at the Williams Institute at the UCLA School of Law and Ph.D Candidate at the University of California, Riverside. His current and ongoing research includes affect and public opinion, LGBT politics, and the translation of public opinion to policy. Co-author Kenneth Sherrill is a Professor Emeritus of Political Science at Hunter College, CUNY. A specialist in public opinion, voting, and elections, he has been studying the LGBT rights movement since 1972.
It's a question of priorities. In what turned out to be a controversial decision, the Log Cabin Republicans issued a qualified endorsement for Governor Mitt Romney's presidential run. The Log Cabin Republicans stated:
"If LGBT issues are a voter's highest or only priority, then Governor Romney may not be that voter's choice. However, Log Cabin Republicans is an organization representing multifaceted individuals with diverse priorities. Having closely reviewed the candidate's history and observed the campaign, we believe Governor Romney will make cutting spending and job creation his priorities, and, as his record as Governor of Massachusetts suggests, will not waste his precious time in office with legislative attacks on LGBT Americans."
To many, the Log Cabin's worldview may seem typical of gay Republicans, who are thought to subordinate their membership in the LGBT community to their party's platform. But is this fair? What is really going on?
When we talk about identity politics, we should remember that people may have multiple, competing, group identities, but also that research has indicated that most people have a primary identity. So, while it is not surprising that having an LGBT identity influences one's politics, the question remains: does membership in the LGBT community have an equally important effect whether one is a Democrat or a Republican? Or can it be that, on one hand, there are LGBTs who are Democrats and, on the other hand, that there are Republicans who just happen to be LGBT?
The recent Logo/Harris 2012 Presidential Election Poll, which sampled of 1,137 likely voters with an oversample of 1,190 LGBT likely voters, gives us a rare opportunity to answer this question by examining real numbers. Respondents were asked what single issue would be most important to their vote in the upcoming election. We compare the importance placed on three categories of issues: the economy, LGBT issues, and foreign policy.
Figure 1: Proportions of important issues
Figure 2: Proportions of important issues to LGBTs by Party
Overall, LGBTs, like the general public, find issues related to the economy to be the most important. Figure 1 shows that about half of the LGBT population identified economic issues as the most important in making their presidential choice. In comparison, about two-thirds of the respondents in the general population identified economic issues as important. Not surprisingly, LGBTs as a whole are much more likely than the larger American population to identify LGBT issues as the most important policy area in the election. In fact, the difference between the LGBT population and the general population in selecting economic issues as important is nearly equal to the difference between LGBTs and the general population in identifying LGBT issues as important.
But if we look at issue priorities by partisanship, we find significant differences among LGBTs. The policy priorities in Figure 2 reflect these differences. Republican LGBTs were half as likely as Democratic LGBT respondents to name LGBT issues as most important. A clear majority of Republican LGBTs have the economy uppermost on their minds, while Democratic LGBTs--though still likely to think the economy is most important--have more variety in their priorities.
If we compare partisans in the general population to partisans in the LGBT population, we can see whether identifying as LGBT produces any substantive differences in issue priorities. In Figure 3, we can see that differences between Democrats who are LGBT and Democrats who are not LGBT are significant, but the differences between Republicans are not. LGBT Republicans look no different from the average Republican in terms of their policy priorities.
Figure 3: Proportions of important issues
These differences may well have serious consequences for the two parties. In the Logo/Harris poll, 40% of the general public said they usually thought of themselves as Republicans or lean toward the party and 48% said they usually thought of themselves as Democrats or lean Democratic. (The rest were independents or supported other parties.) Among the LGBT respondents, only 22% thought of themselves as Republicans or lean Republican while 66% thought of themselves as Democrats or lean Democratic. Why should there be such a huge difference? Why should LGBT Democrats outnumber LGBT Republicans by a 3:1 margin among likely voters? There are potentially two answers to our findings.
First, being LGBT may alter your view of what is the most important issue, and your choice between the two parties matches those priorities. As a result, those LGBTs who place a high priority on LGBT rights have gravitated toward the Democratic Party. Those LGBT people remaining in the Republican Party are simply the minority of LGBT people who don't place their sexual orientation and gender identity above their party politics.
Another explanation for our findings is that being a Republican or a Democrat may affect how much your LGBT identity is able to alter those priorities. From the analysis, we can think of Republicans as a group regardless of LGBT identification, but we can't do so for Democrats. Being LGBT has an impact on issue priorities for LGBT Democrats, but it does not have one on the issue priorities of LGBT Republicans. Being Republican trumps having an LGBT identity.
If this is the explanation for our findings, the GOP has had little motivation to design a more LGBT inclusive party platform. However, it would be foolish for the Democratic Party to ignore sexual orientation and gender identity with about one in five LGBT Democrats naming LGBT issues as the most important in deciding how to vote.
However, if the first explanation is correct, and LGBTs who place a high priority on LGBT issues have gravitated away from the Republican Party because of the party's positions on LGBT issues, then Republicans are ignoring these issues at their own risk.
However we got here, today rank-and-file LGBT Republicans do not place a greater priority on gay-related issues than do Republicans as a whole. This is not the case for Democrats: Rank-and-file LGBT Democrats place a higher priority on LGBT-related issues than do Democrats as a whole. This may explain why LGBT Democrats and Republicans, as opposed to talking to one another, talk past one another.