Americans like “gays and lesbians”; “homosexuals” not so much

The Gallup poll just released an interesting series of results on attitudes towards gays and lesbians and public policy.   Their main takeaway: for the first time ever, more than half of all Americans actually find gay relationships “morally acceptable.”   There’s also a clear majority (about 60%) for “legal” relationships between gay/lesbian adults.  They also point out that there’s been a lot of movement on the moral approval question: e.g., among Catholics, the approval has gone up 16% in just four years and among men up 14%.  (Lots more interesting breakdowns at the site).  As readers of this blog know, one should generally be skeptical of making too much of any one opinion poll, but what these results clearly tell us is that there is a definite trend of increasing support for gay/lesbian relationships and it does tell us how this support varies by groups.

It’s also worth noting, as the title of the post implies, that even here, there’s strong question-wording effects.  Here’s the results from a recent survey from CBS news (archived via


*Questions below asked of partial samples

Do you favor oppose ____ serving in the military?
Homosexuals: 59% Favor, 29% Oppose
Gay men and lesbians: 70% Favor, 19% Oppose

Do you favor or oppose ____ being allowed to serve openly?
Homosexuals: 44% Favor, 42% Oppose
Gay men and lesbians: 58% Favor, 28% Oppose

So, the public favors getting rid of DADT for even the clearly inferior “homosexuals,” but for “gay men and lesbians” it’s no contest.  We can also safely presume that Gallup’s numbers would’ve been lower if they had used “homosexuals.”  So, which results more accurately reflect public opinion?  Who’s to say, that’s why you always need to be suspicious of over-interpreting poll results.  That said, there is a clear story here.

About Steve Greene
Professor of Political Science at NC State

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