Does Candidate Sexual Orientation Matter at the Ballot Box? A Field Experiment
16 Pages Posted: 3 Sep 2016
Date Written: September 1, 2016
Surveys and laboratory experiments suggest the existence of enduring hurdles that LGBTQ candidates must overcome to win. But to what extent do actual voters respond to candidate sexual orientation? To what extent is their response conditioned by the presence or absence of social issues in the campaign dialogue? To test these questions, a field experiment was embedded in a low salience 2016 Democratic Primary race for county recorder in Franklin County, Ohio. The incumbent candidate was openly gay – he mentioned his sexual orientation in his official biography – and had campaigned for gay rights. Nonetheless, given the obscurity of the office, very few voters would be expected to know either of these things. With precincts randomly assigned to receive mailings that vary the biographical information (sexual orientation mentioned or not) and the issue context (gay rights included or not), we test for a real world effect of candidate sexuality. We find that the mere fact of being gay had no discernable effect on voters, while being gay and expressing commitment to marriage equality actually increased support for the candidate. Ultimately, the results suggest scholars may have underestimated the capacity of gay candidates to run as themselves and succeed.
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