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The Politics of Disgust



In my book project, The Politics of Disgust: Public Opinion Toward LGBTQ People and Policies, I examine the persistence of negative attitudes toward LGBTQ people and issues in America. I focus on the emotion of disgust and its impact on policy support and persuasion. I argue that these dynamics illustrate a broader pattern of affect and prejudice in American politics that applies to many issues and settings beyond the LGBTQ context.

Friends and Allies?
Rethinking Contact

What has caused the remarkable shifts in public opinion toward LGBTQ people in recent years? Many argue it is the positive influence of contact with LGBTQ people. Using survey data from the American National Election Studies (ANES), I illustrate that the conventional wisdom surrounding the influence of contact is not as far reaching or consistent as widely believed. Indeed, there are many people who know LGBTQ people but do not support LGBTQ issues, or who support LGBTQ issues without knowing a single LGBTQ person. I argue that disgust is an important motivator of these findings.

Disgust, Subgroups, & 
LGBTQ Policy Support 

Using a series of original experiments, I examine the relationship between disgust and LGBTQ-related attitudes and policy support. I show that, across party affiliations, many people still experience disgust in reaction to LGBTQ issues, with significant consequences for policy support. I also illustrate how these impacts vary by subgroup of the LGBTQ community - the strongest effects and largest decreases in support are consistently in response to transgender people and issues. This reveals that, even following national events like the legalization of gay marriage, the political questions surrounding social acceptance and rights for LGBTQ people are far from settled.

Sex, Sexuality, & Bodies

I then lay out a theoretical justification for the study of disgust in LGBTQ politics. Drawing from psychology (e.g., Herek 2004), feminist and queer theory (e.g., Rubin 1984), and legal and political theory (e.g., Canaday 2011; Nussbaum 2004), I argue that disgust operates not just as a psychological phenomenon, but also as a socipolitical norm that is learned, reinforced, and embedded in cultures and institutions.

Emotional Agendas

In an article I am currently writing based on the findings of my dissertation, I offer an account of how contemporary LGBTQ politics reflects a politics of affect that can be seen in many issues and settings beyond the LGBTQ context. As an example, I recount the evolution of opinion and policy success on gay marriage, and argue that LGBTQ advocates only became successful when they (re)set what I term the "emotional agenda," centering love and emotion in their arguments rather than earlier frames of civil/equal rights. This illustrates one (flawed) way to counter the politics of disgust, but I conclude by arguing that LGBTQ advocates will need to develop different persuasive tactics which more directly confront the impact of disgust moving forward. 

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