Ballot measures affect emotional well-being of LGBT people

In an important piece of new research, scholars found that the very presence of ballot measures, regardless of their success, was enough to have a significant impact on LGBT people’s emotional well-being. This research indicates that legislators who float these bills, and thus force these initiatives, do significant harm even if their measures don’t pass. Based on these findings, one also must wonder about the effects of legislation working its way through the General Assembly and local governmental bodies. 

A new study examining the psychological effects of ballot measures related to same-sex marriage in 2012 found that LGBT people were more likely to be stressed as the total number of televised campaign advertisements increased. 

The study also found that the substance of the campaign advertisements influenced LGBT people’s emotional well-being. Ads that opposed same-sex marriage evoked sadness, while supportive ads brought about enjoyment and happiness. The quantity and tone of the ads had no effect on the stress levels and emotional well-being of non-LGBT people. 

“Negative campaign messages can be seen as threatening to LGBT people and expose them to a variety of stressors that other studies suggest lead to adverse mental and physical health outcomes,” said lead author Andrew R. Flores, a visiting scholar at the Williams Institute at UCLA School of Law and assistant professor at Mills College. “On the other hand, affirming discourse can have positive consequences in otherwise stigmatizing environments.” 

Researchers analyzed survey data from a representative sample of LGBT and non-LGBT people living in the 12 states that share media markets with Maine, Maryland, Minnesota and Washington. The four states had marriage equality measures on the 2012 ballot. 

Researchers examined whether psychological well-being varied between LGBT people residing in areas with a high volume of media campaigns and areas without advertisements. They also looked at how potential exposure to campaign-related advertisements affected three psychological outcomes: stress, felt emotions (happiness and sadness) and behavior (laughing or smiling). 


Key findings:

Compared to LGBT people living in areas without any advertisements, 

  • LGBT people in areas with 400 campaign ads had a 34.0 percentage point greater likelihood of reporting stress. 
  • LGBT people in areas with 200 negative ads had a 58.8 percentage point greater likelihood of reporting sadness and a 68.1 percentage point lower likelihood of smiling or laughing. 
  • LGBT people in areas with 200 positive ads had a 14.1 percentage point greater probability of reporting happiness, a 20.9 percentage point greater likelihood of enjoying something and a 22.3 percentage point greater likelihood of smiling or laughing. 
  • LGBT people in areas with 200 positive ads had a 27.3 percentage point lower probability of reporting sadness. 
  • Voter referendums and initiatives are used in 27 US states often to expand or limit the rights of minority groups. Between 1974 and 2009, there were 158 referendums and initiatives concerning LGBT people, with over 70 percent of them restricting or rejecting their rights. 


“It’s important to look at the psychological effects of ballot measures,” said Flores. “Because even if discriminatory policies don’t succeed at the ballot box, the stigmatizing messaging from the campaign may be a source of stress for LGBT people.” 






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