Changing Media, Chaning Minds: The Lesbian and Gay Movement, Television, and Public Opinion
Garretson, Jeremiah J
Continuity tends to characterize political attitudes with parents tending to transmit their opinions to their offspring. Given these orthodox conceptions, why have attitudes towards lesbians and gays liberalized in recent years? I show that attitudes involving lesbians and gays have shifted because of the spread of a collective lesbian and gay identity that began in the late 1960s and 1970s. In conjunction with experts adopting a more positive view of the group, the spread of this identity created a constituency that politicians could use in order to target appeals for votes in the country’s urban centers. In response, liberal Democrats who represented these areas shifted to the left on lesbian and gay issues. Interest groups based around lesbian and gay issues then developed in the late 1980s and provided resources to Democrats on a national level, as the Republican shifted rightward to appeal to the Religious Right. Using Survey data that asks respondents if they know gays or lesbians and their opinions on the innateness of homosexuality over two decades, I show that the polarization of the major parties on lesbian and gay rights during the 1992 presidential campaign and prior and the rise of lesbian and gay television characters in the mid-1990s explain why opinion liberalization occurred during the 1990s and not in the years prior. Period effects created by systematic changes in the media and filtered by partisanship dominate all other potential causes of the shift in public opinion. Furthermore, I show using an experimental design that individuals exposed to lesbian and gay individuals through the media liberalize their attitudes towards lesbians and gays. Finally, I demonstrate that attitudes toward lesbians and gays have had a profound effect on recent presidential elections. My dissertation shows that the images that stream over the airwaves in the form of news and fictional television can bridge the divide between groups and increase the level of tolerance in the mass public.