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Parsing public opinion: Examining the heterogeneous effects of same sex marriage legalization on mass attitudes in America

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Author: Fast, Andrew
Ordinarily, mass attitude change takes place slowly if at all. Many attitudes remain relatively stable over time and even generations. American attitudes on abortion, for example, have remained surprisingly consistent over time. In 1972, 49 percent of Americans favoured access to abortion for poor women and in 2016, 43 percent of Americans felt the same way. Contrast this with attitudes toward same sex marriage. In 1988, a mere 11.6 percent of Americans were in favour of legalizing same sex marriage. In 2016, 59.2 percent were in favour of granting same sex couples the right to marry (Rosenfeld, 2017). This 47 point rise in support represents a remarkable turnaround in mass public opinion. Recent research suggests that public opinion formation is not strictly a bottom up process with individuals as paramount, but that institutions and official policy play a role (Soss and Schram, 2007). So how does the legalization of same sex marriage affect mass opinion? Previous results suggest that legalization leads to an increase in support for the policy. But these analyses treat legalization as constituting a uniform treatment effect. I use data from the 2008, 2012 and 2016 American National Election Surveys to determine if the effect of legalization on opinion is heterogeneous based on psychological predispositions. My results indicate that individuals do respond differently to policy change based on their levels of authoritarianism and ethnocentrism.
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