How gay is America?

It’s not unusual for pollsters to find that their respondents over-estimate the prevalence of people or things in the news. But I was amazed at this Gallup poll that asked its respondents to estimate the proportion of Americans who are gay.

The mean estimate was around 25%, about seven times the likely real figure, and 150% higher than the commonly cited 10% figure from the long-ago discredited Kinsey report. Only 4% of Americans gave numbers in the correct less than 5% category, and even deeming any answer less than 10% as broadly right we still get to only 13% of Americans giving a correct answer. Even most gay people would have social networks that are more than 75% straight, so these numbers are bizarre.

The 10% figure is still sometimes cited by gay activists to bolster their political case, but other questions in the Gallup survey suggest that perceptions of levels of homosexuality make little difference to political views.


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19 Responses to “How gay is America?

  • 1
    conrad
    May 30th, 2011 12:10

    You could probably get to 10% if you took “gay” to mean anyone who is purely gay or somewhat bixsexual (either in terms of actions or thought). I also think this is another survey where the question isn’t great. It really needs to be worded more carefully e.g., “leads an entirely gay lifestyle” . Or, if you’re interested in what people think rather than just lifestyles (probably even more important), you could ask questions about various explicit acts between people that would hit the spam bin if I wrote them here and the extent that people feel comfortable thinking about them (or similar). For example, I don’t care what gay people do with each other, but if I had to watch, say, a live performance, I’d have a different feeling to that which I would have watching a non-gay equivalent (or at least a non male-male equivalent). This sort of questioning would identify me as being down the male heterosexual end of the gender identity continuum and wouldn’t rely on what I perceive as “gay”.

  • 2
    john malpas
    May 30th, 2011 12:52

    being ‘gay’ is heavily advertised on TV. so many TV series have a homosexual – usually depicted as hansome , well dressed and insightful of womens problems as opposed to brutal heteros.
    No wonder they seem to be everywhere.

  • 3
    Shem Bennett
    May 30th, 2011 14:50

    Andrew- I’m quite surprised by those numbers, too! I mean, gay people make up far less than 25% of media personalities (and the media/ entertainment industries are known for their gay-friendliness). And I definitely don’t have a social network that is 25% gay, even as a gay guy… I don’t know how anyone could believe that 25% of people are gay? Where are they getting that idea from?

    I wish it was divided by political persuasion. Maybe lefties believe half of their friends are in the closet because they want the reputation boost having a gay friend gives in progressive circles…

    Conrad- I’m of the opinion you could get far above 10% and quite probably above 25% if you took anyone that at any stage had a bisexual thought… But the survey asks about gay people which to me implies identity..

    Identity politics is so confusing though. I really think things were a lot easier historically when issues of sexuality seldom were made into an identity thing, but were either a gender thing, an action thing or an attraction thing.

  • 4
    KB Keynes
    May 30th, 2011 14:57

    there are at least three surveys that I know of of this occurring in Australia.

    Latrobe Uni found 1.6% homosexual and 0.65 bi-sexual from a survey of 20,000, Monash Uni found only 0.2% of people living in a same-sex relationship , admittedly different but on a similar topic, and the Uni of WA found 1.7% of students from a survey were homosexual.

  • 5
    steve from brisbane
    May 30th, 2011 15:43

    Frankly, I just took this as a sign that people sometimes don’t take telephone polling all that seriously. I mean, come on – 35% said their best guess was that more than 25% are gay? Sounds all a bit Margaret Mead to me.

  • 6
    Andrew Norton
    May 30th, 2011 18:17

    Conrad, Shem – The Sex in Australia survey (the La Trobe study that Homer referred to) showed that indeed this can get rather confusing. If you count both attraction and experience, it found about 9% of men and 15% of women with at least one of the two. But there can be attraction without experience, and experience without attraction. But gay/bisexual identity was only 2.5% for men and 2.2% for women.

  • 7
    Jeremy
    May 30th, 2011 18:44

    Maybe the respondents were thinking of the time they saw someone like me in the street. I’m always being mistaken for a homosexual.

    Just last Friday, out for drinks after work, one woman asked me if I had a boyfriend. I explained, and when she apologised I told her that I didn’t mind, since the same thing had been happening to me since I was 16, but she felt a need to explain herself. Apparently it was the precision with which I speak which had her fooled.

    Makes a difference from the usual ‘look like a poofter’ reasons I usually get, but still, cold comfort.

    OK then, off to get some tatts and a beer gut. That should bring the percentages down somewhat.

  • 8
    KB Keynes
    May 31st, 2011 09:03

    Yes Andrew it can get very confusing.

    I remember watching an awful film a long time ago called My own Private Idaho. In the film a man has oral sex performed on him from another man but doesn’t consider it homosexual.

    After the film I said how could anyone believe drivel like that only to be told by everyone else, male and female alike, that it wasn’t homosexual at all!

  • 9
    Baz
    May 31st, 2011 09:10

    Private Idaho – blast from the past – ole glory days of River Phoenix. Man hit his prime as a young Indianna and it all went down hill from there.
    Anyway, didn’t know that they had any gays in America, let alone 25%. Learnt something new I suppose. Anyway, seems to be a lot of posting on gay topics…

  • 10
    Jeremy
    May 31st, 2011 10:24

    Maybe if the actors had spoken more precisely, Homer, there would have been no confusion. :-)

  • 11
    conrad
    May 31st, 2011 11:08

    In Japan, I believe in male-male sex, the “top” is considered heterosexual, whereas the bottom isn’t. Another good example are the Sambians in New Guinea. They spend a good of their life (between 7 and adulthood) blowing older males, and then that gets reversed once they become adults. But they still generally have heterosexual identities.

  • 12
    Andrew Norton
    May 31st, 2011 12:14

    I fear that this thread’s content will now see even more nanny filters screen me out….

  • 13
    KB Keynes
    May 31st, 2011 12:16

    Conrad, we found out during the Clinton impeachment imbroglio that a majority of Yanks do not believe oral sex is sex!

    Andrew you are a bad man!!!!!

  • 14
    JC
    May 31st, 2011 13:04

    ” we found out during the Clinton impeachment imbroglio that a majority of Yanks do not believe oral sex is sex! ”

    Did we Homer? Like who actually said that other than Bill Clinton himself and possibly you?

    i hope this doesn’t become a “skanky ho” moment.

  • 15
    KB Keynes
    May 31st, 2011 13:34

    well people in the US were interviewed and they astonishingly agreed with the Clinton interpretation.

    Good to see you were asleep then as you always are now.

    In terms of Skanky Ho you still haven’t produced one shred of evidence to back your claim up whereas I naturally have.

    so yes it is a skanky Ho moment.

  • 16
    JC
    May 31st, 2011 15:45

    What interviews Homer? Furthermore I recall at one time you aid you didn’t think oral sex is sex too. Refresh my memory, or others can.

  • 17
    Alexander
    May 31st, 2011 17:56

    Fwiw, I don’t think oral is sex—but neither do I think anal is really sex. In fact, I have my doubts about ordinary m-f intercourse with contraception. My classification and yours both have holes, but trying to find a natural category that doesn’t would be incredibly difficult.

  • 18
    JC
    May 31st, 2011 18:20

    “My classification and yours both have holes,”

    that’s a joke, right?

  • 19
    Andrew Norton
    May 31st, 2011 19:02

    I think this thread has strayed into matters commenters would best keep to themselves…