Public Opinion and Gay Rights: Do Members of Congress Follow Their Constituents' Preferences?
34 Pages Posted: 1 Aug 2011 Last revised: 8 Jul 2021
Date Written: August 25,
While gay and lesbian rights have become controversial, high-profile issues in contemporary American politics, scholars know relatively little about what drives federal policymaking in this area. In this paper, we consider a likely determinant of government action - public opinion - by investigating the relationship between the roll call votes of members of Congress on gay rights legislation issues and the policy-specific preferences of their constituents. For each state and congressional district, we use national-level surveys and advances in multi-level modeling to estimate the preferences of constituents on bills relating to same-sex marriage, hate crimes, employment non-discrimination, and military service. We then use these estimates to examine the effects of policy-specific opinion on the corresponding roll call votes. In addition to constituent opinion, our models of legislator behavior include variables that capture the partisan identification, ideology, and personal characteristics of individual lawmakers. We can thus evaluate the effect of constituent opinion relative to other potential and know determinants of roll call votes. Overall, our results will contribute to our understanding of democratic representation, policy responsiveness, and legislative behavior surrounding civil rights issues.
Keywords: gay, responsiveness, lesbian, gay rights, congress, roll call voting
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