Academic journal article The Geographical Review

Geographic Polarization, Partisan Voting, and the Battle over Same-Sex Marriage within the Culture War

Academic journal article The Geographical Review

Geographic Polarization, Partisan Voting, and the Battle over Same-Sex Marriage within the Culture War

Article excerpt

Politicians, pundits, and voters are transfixed on several key social issues that are often referred to as contributors to the Culture War that was brought about by years of continuing cultural conflict centered on "political and social hostility rooted in different systems of moral understanding" (Hunter 1991, 42). Perhaps no issue has better represented the Culture War than debates regarding homosexual rights, particularly same-sex marriage. As the debate became more salient in the national political arena, the emergence of local and state referenda, and initiatives on Culture War subjects, also became more prominent. Politicians and/or citizens demanded direct democracy in the form of ballot initiatives regarding same-sex marriage. As a result, votes cast at local and state levels provide a rich source of data for analysis because voter support or opposition of specific policy positions (Toal and Shelley 2003) provides a more nuanced examination of voter attitudes than voter support for partisan candidates (Leib and Webster 2012) within spatial contexts. In addition, precinct analyses can illuminate the relationship between partisan and policy voting, and can aid in determining the extent to which a partisan stance on a policy issue is distributed within the voting population. The November 2004 presidential election is unique in this regard because in eleven states, participants had the opportunity to vote not only for president (federal level), a partisan component most commonly expressed in the United States as either "Republican" or "Democrat," but also on same-sex marriage (state-level), a key Culture War issue. Partisan stances were generalized and assumed to align with Republicans supporting a ban on same-sex marriage, and Democrats opposing such a ban. Geographic polarization, or partisan clustering, is increasingly informed by research centering on policy ballot initiatives. With this in mind, we explore precinct results of the Presidential Election and the same-sex marriage issues in 2004 in the Greater Cincinnati, Ohio, metropolitan area, which includes two of the eleven states where a same-sex marriage ban appeared on the ballot (Ohio and Kentucky). These data are analyzed to assess the degree of geographic polarization of voter policy preference on same-sex marriage and how it relates to partisan geographic polarization.

Examining cultural issues and their corresponding results have important implications. First, analyzing precinct-level voting results of same-sex marriage bans provides critical information to further understand geographic polarization and the spatial arrangement of both support for and opposition to same-sex marriage. Second, examining polarization of the American electorate illuminates the relationship between political party and partisanship and policy and ideology. Using voting results at the precinct scale provides fine detail into the spatial relationships between partisanship and policy positions. Third, investigating these spatial relationships exposes additional contextual effects of societal cleavages of the Culture War, by specifically pinpointing sources and places of support for and opposition to gay rights at the local level, and therefore, assessing the degree of alignment between partisanship and policy.

GEOGRAPHIC SORTING AND POLARIZATION

Polarization is one of the most critical and frequently discussed topics in American politics. Recently, ideological members of the electorate began to increasingly sort, or split, into the two major political parties (Levendusky 2009). Evidence also suggests that the electorate possesses polarized political opinions and that ideologically extreme members increasingly create a wide partisan divide on many issues both outside of and contained within the Culture War, including same-sex marriage (Abramowitz 2010a, 2010b, 2011, 2012; Abramowitz and Saunders 2005, 2008).

Several studies contest the degree or intensity of polarization (Fiorina and Levendusky 2006; Fiorina and Abrams 2008, 2009, 2011; Fiorina 2010), or suggest that the notion of polarization is overstated. …

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