KU News Release

Nov. 17, 2011
Contact: Mike Krings, KU News Service, 785-864-8860

Professor studies whether media influence opinions on same-sex marriage

Tien-Tsung Lee

More Information

LAWRENCE — On just about any given day, a person can find more than one story in the media about same-sex marriage and from a variety of perspectives on the matter. But can the media a person chooses to consume sway his or her opinion on a matter as hotly contested as same-sex marriage? University of Kansas professor Tien-Tsung Lee and a colleague analyzed a survey of more than 5,000 Americans to find out and recently published their findings.

Lee, associate professor of journalism at KU, and Gary Hicks, associate professor of mass communications at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville, published “An Analysis of Factors Affecting Attitudes Toward Same-Sex Marriage: Do the Media Matter?” in the October issue of the Journal of Homosexuality. While the media people consume doesn’t necessarily convince people of what to think, it can often influence what they think about, the authors found.

“What media people consume has more to do with who they are than anything,” Lee said. “I’m not saying it has no correlation with opinions, but it doesn’t necessarily change people’s minds.”

The survey data showed that people tend to choose media that agree with or reinforce viewpoints they already hold. The average survey respondent didn’t regularly challenge his or her viewpoints with media that didn’t align. The study also examined whether demographic, psychographic and lifestyle variables, in addition to media usage, affected peoples’ attitudes toward same sex marriage.

The researchers analyzed responses to questions that asked participants about more than 20 variables, including their gender, age, income level, education, religious beliefs and attitudes toward gender equality, family roles and political affiliations, as well as lifestyle questions such as whether people considered themselves someone who would try anything once, or if they were interested in cultures of other countries. They also determined correlations between how much respondents liked certain types of media, including religious programming, political talk shows, newspapers, radio programming, web logs and whether they found magazines more interesting than television and their attitude toward same-sex marriage.

Lee and Hicks found that when only considering demographics, young, more educated females were most in favor of same sex marriage. When considering further variables, respondents who identified as more liberal, less religious, supporters of gender and racial equality, more interested in politics, female and white were more likely to support the matter as well.

In terms of media consumption, the researchers found that individuals who were most in favor of same-sex marriage tended to view specific types of television and prefer reading magazines and blogs.

“Data revealed that, with no demographic or other control variables, one’s support for legalizing same-sex marriage is associated with reading web blogs, disliking religious television, not liking talk radio, considering television as a primary form of entertainment, but not liking televised news,” Lee and Hicks wrote. “Only a few media are associated with audiences’ attitudes toward same-sex marriage, and their effects are small.”

Conversely, respondents who were less in support of same-sex marriage preferred television news, watched it less for entertainment, liked talk radio, read fewer blogs and did not find magazines more interesting than television.

Lee said that while the study reinforced previous research about the demographics that support same-sex marriage, the value is that it gives a much clearer understanding of their media habits. The finding is especially intriguing, given the fragmentation of media over the last decade-plus, with the emergence of the internet and more television networks and other media outlets developing every year.

“People don’t really have a common source of news any more,” Lee said. “Where we used to have the three major networks, they now can turn to a source that agrees with their viewpoints. It’s not surprising that support for the issue is growing. Years ago it was totally unthinkable. Now it is supported by many.”

The study was Lee’s latest research into controversial political ideologies such as abortion and discrimination and their relationship with the media. He has also published research on whether people trust media and if they consider certain outlets biased.

“To me, what’s most interesting is what kind of media people consume and how they view that media,” he said.

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