Beliefs about sexual orientation linked to voting behavior in the 2016 presidential election


A recent study found that belief in the discreteness, homogeneity, and informativeness of sexual orientation was related to an increased likelihood of being a Republican and of voting for Donald Trump in 2016. The study was published in Psychology of Sexual Orientation and Gender Diversity.

Theorists have considered an array of explanations for President Donald Trump’s rise to the presidency in 2016, a feat that surprised many. Two issues that are thought to have separated voters during the election are sexuality and gender.

“In addition to a focus on racism and White supremacy, research has explored how sexuality and gender were polarizing issues in the election due largely to Vice President Mike Pence’s anti-LGBT+ attitudes and support for discriminatory policies (Blair, 2017), as well as what some have identified as the Trump voters’ “possessive investment in White heteropatriarchy” (Strolovitch et al., 2017),” study authors Patrick Grzanka and colleagues say.

A study was conducted using data from two samples of American college students. The final sample included 189 students from a private university in New York and 98 from a state school in Arizona. All subjects had completed a survey measuring beliefs about sexual orientation along four subscales: discreteness — belief that sexual orientation categories are “distinct and non-overlapping”, homogeneity — belief that members of the same sexual identity are similar to one another, naturalness — belief that sexual orientation is innate, and informativeness — belief that a person’s sexual orientation says much about who they are.

Participants also disclosed their political party affiliation and indicated who they intended to vote for in the 2016 election.

The analysis revealed three profiles of participants. One profile, referred to as the multidimensional essentialism profile, was marked by “moderate-to-high” scores on all four of the subscales related to beliefs about sexual orientation. A second profile contained those who showed the highest levels of belief in the discreteness, homogeneity, and informativeness of sexual orientation, and was referred to as high DHI. The final profile was named the naturalness-only group, and members had the highest levels of belief in the naturalness of sexual orientation, and the lowest levels for homogeneity, discreteness, and informativeness.

Importantly, these profiles were associated with differences in political affiliation and voting behavior. First, those in the high DHI profile were the most likely to be Republican (49%). By contrast, only 14% of the multidimensional essentialism group and 10% of the naturalness-only group identified as Republican.

High DHI participants were also more likely to express intent to vote for Trump. As the researchers emphasize, “these differences were pronounced, whereby nearly half of those in the high DHI profile intended to vote for Trump compared to 10% in the multidimensional essentialism profile and less 2% in the naturalness-only profile.”

The authors express that what made the naturalness-only group distinct was not their belief in naturalness, but that members of this group had the lowest scores on the other subscales, “beliefs that, for example, knowing someone is gay tells you a lot about them, that lesbian women are very similar to one another, and that you cannot have more than one sexual orientation.” In actuality, the naturalness scores in this group did not differ significantly from the naturalness scores in the high DHI group.

Grzanka and team reflect, “our findings do contribute to a developing argument that “born this way” ideology may possess increasingly less explanatory power when it comes to distinguishing support for, or opposition to, LGBT+ rights and broader forms of social equality (Walters, 2014). If biogenetically informed beliefs about sexual orientation are more commonly held by individuals across the political spectrum, then studying other beliefs about sexual orientation will be key to understanding what predicts positive or negative attitudes toward sexual minorities.”

The study, “Do Beliefs about Sexual Orientation Predict Voting Behavior? Results from the 2016 U.S. Presidential Election”, was authored by Patrick R. Grzanka, Katharine H. Zeiders, Elliot S. Spengler, Lindsay T. Hoyt, and Russell B. Toomey.


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