Elite-Led Mobilization and Gay Rights

Dispelling the Myth of Mass Opinion Backlash
Benjamin George Bishin, Thomas J. Hayes, Matthew B. Incantalupo, and Charles Anthony Smith


Media and scholastic accounts describe a strong public opinion backlash—a sharply negative and enduring opinion change—against attempts to advance gay rights. Academic research, however, increasingly questions backlash as an explanation for opposition to LGBT rights. The authors of Elite-led Mobilization and Gay Rights argue that what appears to be public opinion backlash against gay rights is more consistent with elite-led mobilization—a strategy used by anti-gay elites, primarily white evangelicals, seeking to prevent the full incorporation of LGBT Americans in the polity in order to achieve political objectives and increase their political power. This book defines and tests the theory of Mass Opinion Backlash and develops and tests the theory of Elite-Led Mobilization by employing a series of online and natural experiments, surrounding the Supreme Court rulings in Obergefell and Windsor, and President Obama’s position change on gay marriage. The authors employ extensive survey, voting behavior, and campaign finance data, and examine the history of the LGBT movement and its opposition by religious conservatives, from the Lavender Scare, to the campaign against Trans Rights in the defeat of Houston’s 2015 HERO ordinance, to evaluate these theories. Finally, this book examines what is widely considered the textbook case of anti-gay backlash: the 2010 Iowa Judicial Retention Election. Taken together, the evidence shows that opposition to LGBT rights is a top down process incited by anti-gay elites rather than a bottom up process described by public opinion backlash.

Benjamin George Bishin is Professor of Political Science at the University of California, Riverside

Thomas J. Hayes is Associate Professor of Political Science at the University of Connecticut

Matthew B. Incantalupo is Assistant Professor of Political Science at Yeshiva University

Charles Anthony Smith is Professor of Political Science and Law at the University of California, Irvine

Praise / Awards

  • “. . . finally, a book that successfully moves us—academics and general readers—to the next stage in the long-standing, myth-riddled, often-tautological discussion of backlash.”
    —Scott W. Barclay, Arizona State University

  • “This important book dispatches with the commonly held assumption that pursuit of rights by minority groups leads to backlash by the public.”
    —Jami Taylor, University of Toledo

Product Details

  • 280 pages.
  • 2 photos, 20 charts, 21 tables.
Available for sale worldwide

  • Ebook
  • 2021
  • Forthcoming
  • 978-0-472-12932-4

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