Testing Backlash: The Influence of Political Institutions on Public Attitudes Toward Gay Rights
44 Pages Posted: 17 Jun 2013
Date Written: May 5, 2013
Recent litigation contesting marriage equality has been controversial in part because the claim is sometimes made that public opinion sways against those who obtain rights through courts. That is, the fear of backlash has been used to discourage litigation over equality. We provide the first rigorous assessment of backlash. We begin with an experiment designed to induce backlash in response to policy that promotes the interests of gays and lesbians. We test the degree to which backlash occurs on the general population using Amazon.com’s Mechanical Turk (MTurk) program to recruit subjects into an online survey with an embedded experiment. We then determine who is most sensitive to the stimuli and whether backlash is triggered solely by policy or whether it can also be triggered by a perception of activism by, or increased societal acceptance of, gays and lesbians. We validate these results using data from national public opinion polls conducted over time. We demonstrate which citizens are most likely to experience backlash, identify how backlash manifests (whether through changed issue position, increased issue intensity, or both) and identify which institutions (courts or legislatures) are most likely to trigger backlash. We also take advantage of the DOMA and Prop 8 oral arguments to conduct a natural experiment. We show that gays and lesbians should not hesitate to litigate as backlash is modest and no different whether success is obtained through courts or legislatures.
Keywords: backlash, LGBT, Mechanical Turk, MTurk, Supreme Court, representation, rights
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