Statewide survey shows Nebraska breaking red state stereotype on social issues

March 24, 2016, 6:44 a.m. ·

Emily Kazyak is the co-author of a recent analysis of statewide survey data on how Nebraskans view political social issues. (Courtesy photo)

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Wednesday, lawmakers in the Nebraska legislature killed LB 586, a bill sponsored by Lincoln senator Adam Morfeld to prohibit lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender discrimination in the workplace. While Nebraska may be considered a “red” state politically, a new state-wide survey shows Nebraskan’s may be more in support of socially progressive policies like LB 586 than originally anticipated. NET News talked with Emily Kazyak, an assistant professor of Sociology and Women and Gender’s Studies at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln about her latest research which analyzes the data from that survey.

NET NEWS: Some of the figures from the analysis of this survey are pretty glaring. Take this one for example: 74 percent of Nebraskans favored laws protecting lesbians, gays, or bisexuals from job discrimination.

ASSOCIATE PROFESSOR EMILY KAZYAK: "There's a lot of support among Nebraskans for gay rights. Seventy-four percent of Nebraskans supported having protections in place for gays and lesbians for employment discrimination. That was also true for rural Nebraskans. That number was 69 percent of rural Nebraskans also support these laws, which is surprising and important because there is that stereotype that Nebraskans are un-supportive but I think this study really shows there is a lot of support for these laws."

NET NEWS: What about some of the responses to questions regarding gay marriage - something like 60 percent in favor of that or a civil union? Any indication why there was such strong support there?

ASSOCIATE PROFESSOR EMILY KAZYAK: "I think that reflects in some ways where the country is going in terms of public opinion around same-sex marriage. There's just been increasing support. People say things like, the more people know gay/lesbian couples, the more supportive they become. I think we're seeing some of that in Nebraska too that people are sort of used to the idea. There's been a lot of discussion about same-sex marriage and there's increasing support."

NET NEWS: Was there a difference in responses between urban and rural areas of the state?

ASSOCIATE PROFESSOR EMILY KAZYAK: "There were some differences. In general, urban people tended to be more supportive. But one thing that we were again kind of surprised about was that, even among rural people, there was majority support for the issues of job discrimination, housing discrimination, and also relationship recognition."

NET News: "Is it possible then that maybe too often we’re over-simplifying with the “blue” state, “red” state narratives we hear about so often?"

ASSOCIATE PROFESSOR EMILY KAZYAK: I think that's a great point. I think that’s what usually happens. We just get stereotyped and then we all sort of run with it: the media, politicians, and the public just kind of get in this mindset of, ”Oh, Nebraska’s a red state. Everyone's conservative here and everyone's un-supportive of gay rights, which is why my colleague Matthew Stange and I wanted to do this study in the first place. (We wanted) to actually get data on what Nebraskans actually believe on gay rights, and does it really fit this red state narrative? So often there are stereotypes that get thrown around or the most vocal people get picked up, heard, and seen as representatives of the state. So I think it is important to actually have data of what do Nebraskans actually believe. Seventy-four percent of people want protections in place. It's not a controversial issue, in some ways. I think it helps us as Nebraskans and then politicians in the state have a sense of what do we actually want in this state. Where are we in terms of public opinion on some of these issues that are being taken up?