Study: On gay issues, Nebraska far less ‘Red’ than label suggests

Study: On gay issues, Nebraska far less ‘Red’ than label suggests

Emily Kazyak

When it comes to electoral geography, Nebraska is a reliable “Red State.” The term can conjure up a wholly conservative electorate unwilling to support progressive policies, such as those that would protect and benefit lesbians, gays and bisexuals.

A new study from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, however, suggests the notion that “Red America” is far from politically monolithic, at least on issues involving sexual orientation -- even in rural areas, often perceived as the "reddest" areas of this "Red State."

In the study, UNL sociologists Emily Kazyak and Mathew Stange analyzed data from a recent statewide survey, finding that 74 percent of Nebraskans favored laws protecting lesbians, gays or bisexuals from job discrimination. Also, 72 percent favored outlawing housing discrimination against such groups, referred to in the study as LGB.

Finally, 60 percent of those surveyed said they supported some form of legal relationship recognition, either by legal marriage or civil union, for gays and lesbians.

“When you actually look at data and polling, (the ‘Red State’) stereotype doesn’t fit,” Kazyak said.

The study was published recently in the journal Sexuality Research and Social Policy. Stange, who received his UNL doctorate in 2014 and who now is a survey researcher with Mathematica Policy Research, said the state-level analysis is significant because such data on the topic is not as prevalent as national polls. That's despite the fact that much of the policymaking related to LGB issues around the country occurs at the state, not federal, level.

The study brings much-needed nuance, he said: “The narrative is an over-simplification that is inadequate and inaccurate for understanding public opinion, debates and policymaking of LGB issues and other topics."

The study examined data from the 2013 Nebraska Annual Social Indicators Survey, which polls Nebraskans 19 and older each year. UNL’s Bureau of Sociological Research conducted the survey from June 2013 to August 2014, with 1,608 Nebraskans responding.

In June 2015, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled gay marriage legal in the United States, negating a ban on gay marriage and civil unions in Nebraska that voters approved in 2000. Earlier this month, U.S. District Court Judge Joseph Bataillon issued a permanent injunction that formally struck down the ban.

The researchers also have examined subsequent survey data since the Supreme Court’s decision, which was not included in the recently published study. The preliminary indications are that approval numbers have continued to inch upward in Nebraska, Kazyak said.

Among other categories, the UNL researchers examined the responses along demographic, political and religious lines. While they weren’t surprised those factors affected attitudes among respondents, they still found a majority in support of pro-LGB policies.

In fact, among rural Nebraskans -- defined by the study as anyone outside the Lincoln and Omaha areas -- 65 percent favored policies protecting against housing discrimination and 69 percent favored protections against job discrimination.

Kazyak said the findings demonstrate why the oversimplified “Red State-Blue State” narratives – where large areas of land on electoral maps appear to be hard-core liberal or staunchly conservative – often distort perceptions and amplify anxiety for those who may not agree with a state’s “winning” political philosophy. Some research suggests that people who believe they are living in a hostile social climate will experience more mental health difficulties, she said.

“It could be detrimental to LGB people living in Nebraska if they have inaccurate views and think that the majority of the people in the state don’t support their equal rights,” Kazyak said. “These numbers show that’s not true.”