Thursday, February 13, 2014

New Article: Public Opinion Toward Employment Discrimination, 1987-2012

A new article I wrote on trends in public opinion toward employment discrimination is now available online at The International Journal of Public Opinion Research. The article will later be in print in the journal's special issue on Public Opinion about Gay Rights/Marriage being edited by Paul Brewer. The piece examines evolving views on whether school boards should have the authority to fire known homosexual teachers between 1987-2012 (N=35,578). In the process, I consider whether we have seen a sea change in public opinion on the issue similar to the dynamic we've recently been witnessing with the same-sex marriage debate.

As the chart below shows, 51.5% of Americans expressed support for the practice when Pew first started collecting data in 1987. By 2012, only 21% of Americans still expressed support for the practice. These individuals are what researchers call the hard core, those who retain minority viewpoints in the face of majority opposition. As the results suggest, this 21% or the hard core tend to be older males who are less educated, more religious, more conservative in their politics, and more likely to have old-fashioned values when it comes to marriage and family.



The analyses look at what factors explain support for variation in employment discrimination over time. Not surprisingly, the influence of religious and ideological value predispositions matters most but demographics (e.g., gender, age, and level of education) are also important as are key cultural values. Much like the same-sex marriage debate, the importance of partisanship (e.g., being a Democrat vs. Republican) wanes in importance over time and is no longer a significant factor driving opinions after 2002.

When it comes to change over time, the results show that the influence of year or time matters more between 2002-2012 than between 1987-2002 indicating that, much like the same-sex marriage debate, the rate or pace of change on this issue has shifted more rapidly, more recently.

One key take-away: while we've been primarily focusing our attention on marriage equality, opinions have shifted on other LGBT civil rights issues as well. At the same time, the US has yet to add sexual orientation to the Employment Nondiscrimination Act. While the US Senate supported the measure this past November, the bill stalled given a lack of support in the US House of Representatives. At the time of the article's drafting, fully 29 states failed to offer protections against employment discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. So while opinions may have shifted just like with the case of marriage equality, legislation still lags behind.

Stay tuned for the summer release of the special issue which promises to present some interesting research on the current state of public opinion toward gay rights/marriage in the US and abroad.

More on the Pew Research Center's 1987-2012 Values data set.

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