Gays in America: perception vs. reality

So, this is really interesting data from Gallup (where I’m not just going to whine about the pointlessness of what they are asking).  They asked respondents what percent of Americans they think are gay.  All I can say is: wow– people are clueless on this:

Just your best guess, what percent of Americans today would you say are gay or lesbian? 2002 and 2011 Trend

This is really ridiculous.  How could anyone possiblly believe 1/4 of all Americans are gay?  That’s a lot of people in the closet.  Some more numbers:

WASHINGTON, D.C. — U.S. adults, on average, estimate that 25% of Americans are gay or lesbian. More specifically, over half of Americans (52%) estimate that at least one in five Americans are gay or lesbian, including 35% who estimate that more than one in four are. Thirty percent put the figure at less than 15%.

Actual numbers I’ve heard are usually <5%.  Here’s Gallup’s take:

Demographer Gary Gates last month released a review of population-based surveys on the topic, estimating that 3.5% of adults in the United States identify as lesbian, gay, or bisexual, with bisexuals making up a slight majority of that figure. Gates also disputes the well-circulated statistic that “10% of the males are more or less exclusively homosexual.”

Perhaps the public is even more clueless about homosexuality than they are about foreign aid spending.  Though, I would love a follow up along the lines of “really, you honestly believe 1 in 4 Americans is gay?”  Obviously homosexuality has become more accepted in the past decade and there’s a lot more gays in the media, but this is some really serious mis-perception of something most of us actually experience in our daily lives by knowing a mixture of overwhelmingly straight, and a few gay, people.

I was about to write, “what this data does not have, and I’d love to see, is how these estimates correlate with other political attitudes,” but I wrote too soon.  Scroll down and there it is.  Amazingly, there’s very little correlation.  Supporters and opponents of same-sex marriage have similar estimates, as do liberals and conservatives.  Interestingly, more education and more income are fairly strongly correlated with lower (i.e., more accurate, but still way overblown) estimates.

About Steve Greene
Professor of Political Science at NC State

One Response to Gays in America: perception vs. reality

  1. Pingback: Gays in America: perception vs. reality (via Fully Myelinated) « NonProfit Beginnings

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