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MARGINALIZED YET MOBILIZED: Race, Sexuality, and the Role of “Political Hypervigilance” in African American Political Participation in 2016

  • Alecia J. McGregor (a1), Laura M. Bogart (a2), Molly Higgins-Biddle (a3), Dara Z. Strolovitch (a4) and Bisola Ojikutu (a5)...


Both African American and LGBT voters can prove pivotal in electoral outcomes, but we know little about civic participation among Black LGBT people. Although decades of research on political participation has made it almost an article of faith that members of dominant groups (such as White people and individuals of higher socioeconomic status) vote at higher rates than their less privileged counterparts, recent work has suggested that there are circumstances under which members of marginalized groups might participate at higher rates. Some of this research suggests that political participation might also increase when groups perceive elections as particularly threatening. We argue that when such threats are faced by marginalized groups, the concern to protect hard-earned rights can activate a sense of what we call “political hypervigilance,” and that such effects may be particularly pronounced among members of intersectionally-marginalized groups such as LGBT African Americans. To test this theory, we use original data from the 2016 National Survey on HIV in the Black Community, a nationally-representative survey of Black Americans, to explore the relationship among same-sex sexual behavior, attitudes toward LGBT people, and respondent voting intentions in the 2016 presidential election. We find that respondents who reported having engaged in same-sex sexual behavior were strongly and significantly more likely to say they “definitely will vote” compared to respondents who reported no same-sex sexual behavior. More favorable views of LGBT individuals and issues (marriage equality) were also associated with greater intention to vote. We argue that these high rates provide preliminary evidence that political hypervigilance can, in fact, lead to increased political engagement among members of marginalized groups.


Corresponding author

*Corresponding author: Alecia J. McGregor, Department of Community Health, Tufts University, 574 Boston Ave, Suite 208, Medford, MA 02155.


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