Public Opinion Polls

Sean G. Massey, Sarah R. Young, & Ann Merriwether

According to U.S. public opinion polls from the past 40 years, attitudes toward gay men and lesbians have become progressively more favorable (Gallup, 2018).  Although attitudes toward transgender individuals have not been collected for the same amount of time, results from the 2017 Global Attitudes Toward Transgender People survey suggest that a majority of Americans hold positive opinions toward transgender people (Luhur, Brown, & Flores, 2017). Questions that reflect egalitarianism tend to reveal more dramatic pro-LGBTQ shifts and suggest that the majority of U.S. residents see gay men and lesbians as deserving of equal and fair (egalitarian) treatment and are generally opposed to discrimination in employment, education, and housing. For example, in 1976, when Gallup asked respondents how they felt about protecting homosexuals[1] against employment discrimination in general, only a small majority (56%) supported protections, but when they asked again in 2008, the percentage supporting protections increased to 89%.  Similarly, when Gallup asked respondents in 1979 if they thought homosexual relations between consenting adults should or should not be legal, only 43% said they should be legal.  When a similar question was asked in 2018, 75% said yes, these relations should be legal, and only 23% said no. And when asked in 1973 if “it was wrong for same-sex adults to have sexual relationships”, 70% said it was always wrong. However, in 2018 that number dropped to 31%.

However, when polled about specific aspects of life, these positive trends become less pronounced. For example, although support for same-sex marriage has followed an upward trend toward acceptance, moving from only 27% in 1996 to 67% in 2018, this change has been slower than responses to questions about whether sexual relationships among same-sex adults are always wrong. Similarly, when asked in 2008 about the employment of gay men and lesbians in specific occupations, support was greater for the occupation “sales” (90%) than for “doctor” (78%), “member of the President’s Cabinet” (75%), “soldier in the armed forces” (76%), or “high school teacher” (62%). When asked in 2005 whether a gay man or lesbian should be employed as “a member of the clergy” or an “elementary school teacher” the percent supporting was even smaller (49% and 54% respectively) (Gallup, 2018).

Although egalitarianism continues to have a favorable influence on heterosexuals’ overall evaluations of LGBTQ people, there are many anti-LGBTQ values, negative stereotypes, and ego-defensive reactions that continue to exert a negative influence. For example, participants’ responses to questions about their comfort in “employing homosexuals” can vary significantly depending on whether the question focuses on the fair treatment or moral acceptance of homosexuality; the job’s potential for influencing beliefs and the social values of others (e.g., clergy are defenders of morality, elementary school teachers shape the development of children, and service men and women may symbolize American strength); or the duties associated with the job trigger an anti-gay stereotypes (e.g., the belief that gay men are all pedophiles, and therefore shouldn’t be around children).


Gallup shows historical support of LGBT Rights in public opinion polls over the course of time, click image to view:

  1. At this time, the term “homosexual” was widely used to describe gay and lesbian people. However, because of its origins in medical and psychiatric discourse, it is currently considered by many to be offensive.