Lesbian, gay and trans politicians still face ‘electoral discrimination’, eye-opening study finds

Newly-published research has found lesbian, gay and transgender (LGT) candidates face “electoral discrimination” in the United Kingdom, United States and New Zealand.

For the research, published in The Journal of Politics, authors Gabriele Magni and Andrew Reynolds asked participants to vote for hypothetical candidates who differed based on race, ethnicity, sexuality, gender and other factors.

Then, using “innovative estimate techniques”, they broke down the results using a percentage system which measured the level of bias faced across different subgroups.

When collated, the data showed that “outright prejudice, electability concerns and identity cueing (i.e. LGT candidates are seen as more liberal)” collectively make it harder for LGT candidates to win seats.

The study did not include bisexual candidates and gives no explanation for this lack of inclusion.

Despite increased political representation, electoral discrimination remains a reality

The researchers gathered 4,000 responses with nationally representative samples for the UK, US and New Zealand. The research was conducted in 2018.

In all three countries, gay candidates were penalised for their identity.

“Compared to their straight counterparts, gay candidates face penalties of 6.7 percentage points in the US, 4.6 in the UK and 3.3 in New Zealand,” the authors summarised in a blog post, published by the London School of Economics.

In the UK, lesbians faced an additional penalty of 2.6 percentage points compared to gay men, whereas trans candidates were met with increased levels of bias across all three countries. “Their penalty compared to cisgender candidates is 11 per cent in the US, 10.7 in the UK and 8.5 in New Zealand,” the authors note.

New Zealand respondents generally held more progressive values in all categories, which likely explains why it currently has the most rainbow parliament in the world, with 11 per cent of its members identifying as LGBT+.

The country was also the first to ever elect an openly trans MP, Georgina Beyer, in 1999.

Despite growing LGBT+ representation within Congress, US respondents were more likely to penalise LGBT+ candidates for their identities.

“This can be explained by the greater hostility of the Republican party towards LGBT rights and candidates”, the authors wrote – this hostility evident across the discriminatory, anti-trans bills being proposed by lawmakers across the country.

Discrimination less likely amongst left-wing voters

This hostility wasn’t uniform across all parties, though – the researchers note that “supporters of left-leaning parties do not significantly penalise gay candidates, while right-wing voters strongly do.” 

There was more cross-party agreement in the UK, which the authors partly attribute to “the fact that the Conservative Party at the time of our experiment had as many openly gay and lesbian MPs as the Labour Party.”

Researchers hypothesised this increased representation could help alleviate some of the “electability concerns”, a term which describes the belief that LGBT+ candidates are less likely to get elected and are therefore more likely to be a wasted vote. The more success stories there are, the easier it will be to prove these “concerns” wrong.

As the authors conclude: “LGBT politicians in office send the powerful message that such candidates can win elections and belong everywhere.”