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A Policy-Driven Theory of State Institutional Opinion Leadership: The Case of Gay Rights in the American States

Rice, Heather M. (2014) A Policy-Driven Theory of State Institutional Opinion Leadership: The Case of Gay Rights in the American States. Doctoral Dissertation, University of Pittsburgh. (Unpublished)

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This dissertation explores the comparative ability of states – via state judiciaries, state legislatures, and direct democracy – to lead mass public opinion on homosexuality through the adoption of gay rights policies. I consider four potential attitudinal consequences from public policy – legitimation (policy and opinion move in the same direction), backlash (policy and opinion move in opposite directions), polarization (policy splits opinion), and no relationship (policy has no influence on opinion) – proposing that state courts are better suited to lead homosexuality attitudes than state legislatures. I further hypothesize that a number of state characteristics condition the relationship between public policy and public opinion.

My results show that the mere existence of policy, regardless of its source, changes how citizens feel regarding homosexuality. Specific to state institutions, my results indicate that state legislatures lead public opinion, direct democracy does not lead public opinion, and the results with respect to courts are inconclusive, requiring more research before determining their opinion leadership power. In most cases analyzed herein, policy induces public opinion regarding homosexuality to move in the same direction as the policy adoption, serving to legitimize public opinion. This legitimation consequence of policy is a tremendous revelation not noted in the state politics literature heretofore. Citizens may not even need to be aware of a policy’s existence; rather, through repeated exposure to the policy and its direct (e.g., banishing discrimination against gay and lesbian citizens) and indirect effects (e.g., gays and lesbians more willing to “come out” due to greater legal protections), citizen feelings become more positive toward homosexuality.


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Item Type: University of Pittsburgh ETD
Status: Unpublished
CreatorsEmailPitt UsernameORCID
Rice, Heather M.hmr9@pitt.eduHMR9
ETD Committee:
TitleMemberEmail AddressPitt UsernameORCID
Committee ChairHansen, Susan B.sbhansen@pitt.eduSBHANSEN
Committee MemberFinkel, Steven E.finkel@pitt.eduFINKEL
Committee MemberHurwitz, Jon M.hurwitz@pitt.eduHURWITZ
Committee MemberGreenberg, Martin S.greenber@pitt.eduGREENBER
Date: 3 February 2014
Date Type: Publication
Defense Date: 8 August 2013
Approval Date: 3 February 2014
Submission Date: 6 December 2013
Access Restriction: No restriction; Release the ETD for access worldwide immediately.
Number of Pages: 165
Institution: University of Pittsburgh
Schools and Programs: Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences > Political Science
Degree: PhD - Doctor of Philosophy
Thesis Type: Doctoral Dissertation
Refereed: Yes
Uncontrolled Keywords: state politics, mere exposure, gay rights, homosexuality, public opinion
Date Deposited: 03 Feb 2014 15:18
Last Modified: 15 Nov 2016 14:16


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