Alex Blaze

New Poll Finds 70% of People Favor LGBT Antidiscrimination Laws

Filed By Alex Blaze | May 24, 2011 7:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Marriage Equality, Politics
Tags: Christian beliefs, ENDA, HRC, lesbian, LGBT, poll, queer, transgender

HRC commissioned a poll on LGBT issues, which it has been heralding under the subtitle: "New HRC poll shows Christians support LGBT equality."

True, the poll does show that. There are issues with it, of course, and one can't expect a brand-conscious corporation like HRC to point out the flaws in its own polling, but there's a lot to like.

It's the only national poll I know of (please let me know if there's another in the comments) on LGBT antidiscrimination legislation that I know of, and it shows broad support for it. 70% of Americans favor antidiscrimination legislation for LGBT people in housing, public accommodations, and employment. The last poll that asked specifically about transgender antidiscrimination legislation showed 61% support, and that was in 2002. Gallup polled LGB employment protections in 2008 and found 89% support.

The poll also found 76% of Americans support LGBT-specific anti-bullying legislation, which you wouldn't know if you're just watching the mainstream coverage of the issue that presents the issue as radical queer activists challenging concerned parents.


True, the right is able to whip up opposition to these sorts of bills at the state level by saying that they're "teaching homosexuality" (i.e., they're teaching your kids how to be gay and how to have gay sex), like that WND poll showed just a month ago. But HRC's data indicates that staying on message makes the issue much more palatable to the general public. With that big a difference based largely on question phrasing and question placement (of course I think HRC's methodology was much closer to objective compared to WND's), it's a good reminder that this is an issue that people really don't think too much about and are still fairly easy to influence.

So kudos to HRC. While mainstream media organizations commision a dozen polls on same-sex marriage a year, these issues have barely been addressed at the national level while they're the ones that actually could become law in the next few years. Having more and better numbers would be better, but having some numbers is better than no numbers at all. And with The Advocate's financial trouble and the small size of other LGBT media outlets, they're one of the few institutions in the community that can commission this sort of work even if they're an advocacy group.

But there are parts that are less useful. The way HRC's been touting this survey - that is shows that Christians support LGBT rights - isn't exactly supported by the survey's small sample size. When I read the headline, I wondered, "How did HRC find the Christians they polled?" and the answer was: they polled just over a thousand people and the worked with the cross-tabs.

That way, only 685 people who identify as Christian (no matter how little they go to church or what branch of Christianity they're a part of) were polled. The press release then breaks out the data on male and female Christians, Republican and Democratic Christians, white and nonwhite Christians, Christians distributed on how often they go to church. Only 206 nonwhite Christians were polled (assuming nonwhite people are Christian at the same rate as white people are), which is much less than the standard political poll's sample size.

Which means that the crosstabs should be taken with a grain of salt. Also, it is strange that less than 0.5% of the people they polled were each Mormon and Muslim (since it says "0" while rounding to whole numbers), even though they make up 1.8% and 0.8% of the population of the US, respectively.

The other issue is that the questions were phrased in a pretty straight-forward fashion on an issue that's not at all straight-forward. Take, for instance, the wording on the question about anti-gay rhetoric in churches:

When religious leaders condemn gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people it does more harm than good.

People had to say how strongly they agreed. 70% of self-identified Christians agreed.

That doesn't surprise me. People generally want to be fair and most people who are anti-gay or do anti-gay things do so out of ignorance, willful or otherwise. Most people wouldn't keep on going to a church if they thought it was condemning LGBT people.

Instead, they just develop a very different idea of what "condemn" means. They might think that their church, which says that homosexuality is wrong, isn't condemning anyone; rather, the church is helping those people avoid a life of sin.

Or, more commonly, they think that their church doesn't condemn LGBT people, at least not as much as all those other churches, like the Westboro Baptist Church or those churches that protest against marriage or those churches with pastors who throw fire and brimstone at gay people every Sunday. No, their church is just taking a moral stand.

The next question was stated like this:

My faith leads me to the conclusion that the law should treat all people equally, including lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people.

85% of people agreed with that statement (and 86% of Christians), although 18% of people polled identified as nonreligious or atheist (who knows how they answered - I'd be hard-pressed to say I disagree with the statement above even though it wasn't "my faith" that led me to that conclusion).

But then, what does "equally" mean? It doesn't necessarily mean marriage, since that's a sacred institution that involves one man and one woman. It doesn't necessarily mean anti-discrimination legislation, since isn't that just about special rights that discriminate against the majority. Etc.

Instead, that question should be taken as a goal, not a statement of where we are right now. It does lend credence to the idea that equality-based campaigns for concrete rights such as marriage can be effective, but that doesn't mean that people are going to necessarily accept the LGBT population's idea of what "equality" means. We still need to be linking equality and fairness and justice to concrete actions.

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Additional data:

A Newsweek poll in 2008 found 87% support for "Equal rights for gays and lesbians in terms of job opportunities" and 82% support for "Equal rights for gays and lesbians in terms of housing" but they didn't ask about an antidiscrimination law and they didn't mention trans people.

Alex I am curious about what the results would be of a poll of Lesbian and gay people asking them about Transsexual and transgender issues. Maybe have it part test about basic knowledge about what the words mean then ask them about civil rights issues. Save the tough question for last do you accept and respect TS/TG people for their identity as male or female? Then it would be interesting to compare results with other Americans to see how they compared. I believe that most Americans don't want to see any of us harmed or belittled but that doesn't mean that they want us on equal footing either.

When I commissioned the poll for Indiana this year, I made sure to include language on non-marriage related issues like employment for LGB -and- T folks. The numbers were about the same and Indiana isn't known as a hot bed of liberalism.

I'm glad you broke down some of the problems (and there seem to be many) with the HRC's poll. I don't have too much faith in polls, for many of the reasons that you describe, but I agree with you that, in spite of the problems, it's significant that we have at least some numbers, even if they're pretty inaccurate. As long as no concrete decisions are based entirely on specific poll numbers, it's nice to get a general sense of a trend.