May 28th, 2011

Americans in poll overestimate the number of gay people

Gallup reports that a recent survey of Americans indicate that a majority (52%) believe that between 20% and 25% of the population is gay/lesbian, the average estimate being 25%. What’s more, a sizable number of additional respondents (26%) think that between 10% and 20% of the population is gay.

Although the true number of gay people in the US remains unknown, most data-driven estimates give a percentage that is under 5%. You’d never know it from the poll; only 4% of respondents made an estimate in that ballpark.

The highest estimates in the Gallup poll were given by various groups: young people, the less educated, Democrats, liberals, women. But it’s just a matter of degree. Those who were rich, well-educated, older, Republicans, conservatives, or male gave very high estimates as well. No single group estimated the number as under 15%, and most of the groups were in the 20s.

What is going on here? I can think of a number of possibilities, not necessarily mutually exclusive:

—people are stupid

—people are ignorant

—the media and entertainment focus on gay issues has led people to believe there are far more gays than actually exist

—the people are correct and the scientists are wrong

—the people are using a more elastic definition of gay than researchers have, perhaps one that includes those who have participated in even a single gay act

[NOTE: It is interesting that much the same survey was conducted in 2002 and the results were not all that different. The estimates were slightly lower, and more people said they didn’t know, but the variation between than and now was not all that great: the average guess was between 21% and 22%, and a quarter of respondents thought the figure was 25%.]

43 Responses to “Americans in poll overestimate the number of gay people”

  1. Sergey Says:

    There is another possibility: people are afraid to tell the pollsters what they really think, because they do not want to look “homophobic”. This idiotic bogeyman is now so widely recieved wisdom, that people are ashamed even to think that homosexuality is perversion and/or sin, and even less to admit this in public. You can not call “perversion” something which occures in 25% of cases, but you can do it when the number is 4%.

  2. Casca Says:

    I’m pretty, and witty, and gay… or were you talking about sodomites?

  3. Sergey Says:

    No, I am talking about social norms and customs: what is rendered normal and what is not. Different societes and cultures are very diverse in this respect: in Sparta or Sodom homosexuality was perfectly normal. But in all monotheistic religions (Christianity, Judaism and Islam) it is an abomination. Modern Western civilization is at crossroad now in this respect, it needs to choose what road to follow: to restore the traditional Judeo-Christian morality or go directly to Sodom.

  4. vanderleun Says:

    “… do not pass HO. Do not collect 200 shekels.”

  5. Bob Kantor Says:

    What percentage of the U.S.population is Jewish? I’ve taken an informal poll on the subject, and the answer has ranged from 10% to 20? The correct answer is 2%. The discrepancy between perception and reality in both cases is due almost entirely to media attention.

  6. gs Says:

    1. –the media and entertainment focus on gay issues has led people to believe there are far more gays than actually exist

    I am shocked, shocked at the insinuation that our truth-telling media has an agenda.

    2. sigh Then there are people who want to bar groups like the Log Cabin Republicans from CPAC.

  7. neo-neocon Says:

    Bob Kantor: no, you can’t blame that on media attention.

    Jews have long been—in many countries and eras—overestimated in numbers and influence (including the idea of evil influence).

    It is also a fact, however, that Jews are eminent in many fields far out of proportion to their numbers (such as science and math), and that is on merit. But it gives them enormous visibility and feeds the idea that there are more Jews than there actually are.

    See this for a somewhat related post.

  8. kolnai Says:

    This is definitely something that tends to happen as certain “minority” issues become more salient.

    I was writing a paper on multiculturalism a few years ago and I came across a survey performed by the Washington Post, the Kaiser Family Foundation, and Harvard, asking people to estimate the number of minorities in the population. EVERYONE vastly overshot the mark:

    Whites thought that 24% of the country was black (real number: around 13%), and they thought there 50% more Hispanics than there were and three times as many Asians. Altogether, the whites surveyed thought that 50% of the population was black-Asian-Hispanic (real number: 27%).

    Blacks and Hispanics overshot their numbers even more than whites.

    When Stephan Thernstrom reported on the survey, his conclusion was this:

    “Americans have become so attentive to racial divisions and so obsessed with racial matters that they have developed a badly distorted picture of the shape of their society.”

    I think it’s pretty clear that this relates to obsession and media-attention, as well to education (which is obsessed with the same issues). If you would have asked the question about gays in 1950, the answer would have probably been more accurate.

  9. ErisGuy Says:

    Makes one wonder what Americans think what is the percentage of Chinese in the world population.

    Without checking Google–my guess: slightly more than 1/6. India: slightly less than 1/6. All Europeans, Australians, and Americans(N&S): slightly less than 1/6.

  10. Jack Says:

    1) As for the merits for ignorance leading to the results, it certainly applies. Look at TV programming today. Not only are there several programs with gay main characters, but virtually every show and every reality program has at least one and usually several gay characters. A (space) alien whose only exposure to America was through TV programs would also conclude that 20-25% of the population is gay.

    2) I also think fear of being labeled a “homophobe” crept into the results. People are likely worried that if their answer was lower that the actual number, they would be looked at by the pollster as seeing gays as too “insignificant” or “inconsequential”, so they went higher than they felt the number was in order to err on the side of caution.

    I think this tendency for all people (minorities included) to overestimate their numbers is known, and the mainstream media exploited it when reporting on the Tea Party.

    I remember articles written justifying the “racist” nature of Tea Party protests because ONLY 10% of the crowd was black, or their homophobic nature because ONLY 5% of the crowd was gay, when these numbers reflected the actual demographics of the country.

    Liberal protests are dominated by white college kids, homosexuals, and minorities in percentages not representative of the country at large, but liberals look at their “own” crowds as representative and use this “knowledge” to paint Tea Party crowds (who are legitimately representative of America’s demographics) as “all white”.

  11. Sgt. Mom Says:

    Hmm … I would guess, if anything, that prominence in the broadcast media would account for the tremendous over-estimation. Everytime we turn around, we’re being hectored to pay attention to the plight of racial/sexual-orientation minorities, and it seems like every ensemble cast for a movie or TV show (I’m looking at you, Glee!) has them well — or over-well represented.
    I had always accepted the figure of 2-3%, since it seemed to track with my real-world experience in the military and in metropolitian fly-over country.

  12. Simon Says:

    That is surprisingly high. I remember hearing many times that it was 10% and never believing it could possibly be so high. 4% or less sounds much more likely to me. Perhaps the respondents were bamboozled by the word percentage? It really is astonishing how ignorant of math and statistics the average person is.

  13. MT of Hollywood Says:

    I am going waaaaay out on a limb here to predict that in the next generation or two, the % will decline. Why? several reasons:
    1 – the world will more get on to parental abuse, which condition can foster same-sex love out of fear for the opposite sex, particularly among girls abused by older men.
    2 – sexualized women will become more interesting to sexualized men – and this will cut into men seeking (lots of) sex from one another as women become more equal partners in sex and sexual exploration when they need men less for economic support
    3 – being gay has become popular in the past 30 years and being straight could resume popularity with the above
    4 – the need to label yourself as anything will diminish as people will become more accepting of self expression and realize that behavior of the moment does not capture a person under a label and in a group forever.
    5 – sex across the sexes is a great adventure that got us all here — how to please and be pleased by someone so unlike yourself.
    There, now, out on that limb, please just consider the points for a moment before sawing the limb off at the trunk. 🙂 What I am saying is that homosexuality will become a behavior rather than an identity.

  14. Richard Aubrey Says:

    Read a report several years ago in which a comm. coll instructor teaching immigrants in Detroit said his students thought the US was majority black. Detroit politics are pretty much all black and the local television markets use many black models, black-cast commercials, and black tv anchors.

  15. waltj Says:

    Richard, if you lived in Detroit now, and didn’t get out much, it would be easy to think that. Forty-fifty years ago, when I was growing up there, it was very different, with blacks far less prominent and “ethnic” whites (i.e., those of us of southern and eastern European descent) making up a large portion of the city.

    I would have been one of those to answer “under 5%” on the aforementioned survey. It’s been known for some time that the percentage of homosexuals in the U.S. populace is far lower than portrayed in the media. But, you wouldn’t know that if your only source of information was the MSM.

    MT, I don’t know. All of the gay people I’ve known, admittedly not that many, have said that they knew from early childhood that they were “different” somehow. And I’ve known from my youngest days that I liked girls, long before I would have understood that made me “hetero”. That to me says there’s a strong genetic component to sexual preference. As a friend of mine rather crudely says, “T & A is in the DNA”.

  16. Promethea Says:

    One of these days, I hope Neoneocon will initiate a discussion on gay marriage.

    It’s the cause du jour, but I really think it needs to be discussed among adults, without name-calling. I personally think it’s a wacko idea to say that two men can “marry” each other, and that two women can “marry each other.” To me, it’s like dogs and cats getting “married,” i.e. silly. Why can’t I “marry” my goldfish, for example? Why can’t I “marry” my daughter?

    I would like to see a real discussion of this subject.

  17. Sergey Says:

    Actual figure based on scientific studies in statistically representative sampling is between 0.7% and 1% for European populations. It was surprisingly low for me, I expected more.

  18. Promethea Says:

    Here’s where I agree with Arfldger. Some groups are out to destroy the family and Western Civilization, and they’ll use any means necessary to do so. Gay marriage is probably one of those ways to do so. Artfldger has probably studied this situation, and I hope he gives us a brief summary of the “gay marriage” issue.

    Gays won their right to be gay many decades ago. The marriage thing is just another Alinsky-type wrench in the workings of normal civilization.

    BTW, I have the “right” to go through stop signs. Who’s to say that I don’t?

  19. Beverly Says:

    Larry Kramer (Act-Up) admitted that he had inflated his estimate of the percentage of gay men (it’s actually about 2%) to 10% so the politicians would take them more seriously as a “minority.”

    It seems the “puffer fish” strategy worked.

    I’d say the public misconception of their prevalence is due to the constant flogging of gay memes in the entertainment biz.

  20. Beverly Says:

    Promethea, you know that any discussion of this topic is verboten!

    (I denounce myself.)

  21. SteveH Says:

    Virtually every problem in our country can be attributed to the average citizen walking around with a head full of skewed perceptions about our country and the world. And all it took was filling a couple hundred thousand messenger positions in pop culture media with shameless liars.

  22. Sergey Says:

    “there’s a strong genetic component to sexual preference”
    For normal sexual preference – yes, for abnormal – no. There are no such thing as genes for abnormality: all of them support norm, more or less effectively. You can have blue eyes or brown eyes, both with corresponding genes, only because both are variants of adaptive norm, formed in different conditions: blue on the North, where sunlight is scarce, brown in tropical regions, where it is abundant. There are also rare genetical diseases, but they are really rare, in frequency range from 1 in 10,000 to 1 in 50,000. Everything below several percent but higher than 0.1% is not genetical, but development anomaly. It can not be inherited, while can be congenital.

  23. Ben David Says:

    “there’s a strong genetic component to sexual preference”
    – – – – – – – – – – – – –
    More Big Lie propaganda.

    After decades of looking – and complete mapping of the human genome – no strong genetic factor has been found.

    The gay rights strategy was to hammer this “born that way” lie – to sidestep real moral/psychological appraisal of their dysfunctional behavior.

    There is stronger evidence for a genetic factor in depression, schizophrenia, and alcoholism than there is for homosexuality. Yet somehow we haven’t normalized those behaviors.

    So it’s a double lie:

    1) It’s not true – there is no genetic causation.
    2) Even if it were true – it would mean nothing about whether the behavior is normal or desirable.

  24. MT of Hollywood Says:

    waltj while no genetic distinction has ever been found “in the laboratory” you do find distinctions in subcultures. One rule in the gay community is that you are to say out-loud that “it” is beyond your control. It is God-given. You are never to say it is a choice. Within that thinking it is just an odd coincidence that so many “born lesbians” had abusive older men in their families. Do you suppose the men were abusive because they sensed a “born lesbian” to abuse?
    I know it is politically incorrect to think of it as choice, but in the absence of evidence, at lease everyone is entitled to his or her opinion.
    What I advocate myself is an absence of labels.
    The sexual encounters you have are your behavior, not your essence. And they are private – no business of the government.

  25. waltj Says:

    Ok, Ben David and MT, tell me this. If it’s not genetic, why did I know so early in life that I was attracted to girls and why did those acquaintances of mine who ended up playing for the other team know that girls didn’t do it for them? In my case, I knew which way I swung long before any sort of socialization could have kicked in, like early preschool. Now I know from reading evolutionary biologists like Pinker that even if something is not technically genetic, there can still be a strong predisposition to that type of behavior. Is that what we’re seeing here? I have a hard time believing that people simply “choose” to be gay or not.

  26. Artfldgr Says:

    the other 18% are gay, but just dont know it….

  27. MT of Hollywood Says:

    waltj: you are focusing on the focus. I say: do not focus on it – let people develop and not be in a box.
    If we were all as sexual as we could be, there would be less need for labels. There would be freedom.
    I thought I was a liberal-radical once. Does that mean I cannot develop and change? Or do I have to be a liberal for life since I protested the Vietnam war and thought it was a god-given feeling, not something I chose to do.
    Sometimes people do not know what to think of act in the political arena until they discover how their thought-leaders think of it. Then they develop their positions, their boxes; this keeps people narrow minded. For example, I’ll bet you tell people about school vouchers and many would say, “Oh! Hummmm!” Then they have to run to their “Parties” to discover if they are “supposed to be” for vouchers or against them.
    Left to their own devises, I suspect kids would find themselves curiously attracted to boys one day, girls another. Let it be. Why stop them on a certain day and say “That’s it; that’s your place.” Also this vague sense of “being different:” isn’t that what all humans feel about being inside of their own skin?

  28. nolanimrod Says:

    If, every day, there were some piece in some organ of the media which asked if I were still beating my wife there would probably be a pretty significant proportion of the population who would, if polled, say that I wasn’t a very nice fellow.

  29. Ben David Says:

    If it’s not genetic, why did I know so early in life that I was attracted to girls and why did those acquaintances of mine who ended up playing for the other team know that girls didn’t do it for them?
    – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –
    There are two chronological inflection points that lead to homosexuality – a third is childhood sexual abuse, which is not tied to any age.

    One is the period from roughly 18 months to 3 years – during which boys separate from mother and bond with father. If this milestone is missed or flubbed – due to unhealthy family dynamics, mismatched personalities, absent or distant father – the boy fees different/rejected from the male world, alienated from his own masculinity, and there is a strong likelihood of later homosexuality.

    The other inflection point is adolescence, where again – a sense of difference leads to alienation from – and idealization/sexualization of – one’s own sex.

    It’s a bit more complex with lesbians, but similar.

    This explains why many gays feel they have “always been this way”.

    It also explains why there are consistently more gay men than lesbians – girls never have to take that risky step of separating from mom.

    Usually the guys’ histories contain distant or belittling fathers, and/or enmeshed and feminizing mothers – a syndrome so common in the backgrounds of gays that it has a name – “the triadic family”. Here’s the recipe:

    Boy with sensitive temperament and/or lacking athleticism or other male virtues


    Physically/Emotionally distant, belittling, father – who abandons the boy to –


    – A domineering or needy mother, who turns the boy into a “pet” (often to fill the emotional gap left in the marriage by that distant father)


    High likelihood of a boy alienated from his own masculinity and suspicious of enmeshment with women.

    Some of these boys will be heterosexuals with “Peter Pan Syndrome” or other relationship difficulties. Some will sexualize the masculine and become homosexual.

    All of this was well-observed and widely accepted psychology before the gay rights movement. Not a shred of new evidence was cited by the activists – they just shouted this stuff down.

  30. MT of Hollywood Says:

    OK thx Ben David. And there you go!

    Not saying whether I’m M or F, straight or gay, active or inactive, but I was in bed one morning with a very masculine guy. I had recently read the psuedo “evidence” concocted by “scientists” testing genetic theories. The hypothesis was: if your ring finger is taller than your middle finger, you are gay. I asked the guy to show me his hand and voila! his ring finger was taller than his middle finger! LOL.

    Let’s hear it for freedom of choice – and let’s try to keep our private sex lives private. I say civil unions for everyone are law. Then also get married in a church if you and your church want to provide that for yourselves. CUM: Civil Union Movement. LOL!

  31. Scott Says:

    I took an undergrad course titled “Social Deviance” in the 1980s. While the course wasn’t useful for real life, it was pretty interesting. We studied groups of people who exhibit behaviors that don’t conform to social norms. For example, outlaw biker gangs like the Hell’s Angels, white supremacists groups like the KKK, drug abusers, and people who engaged in various forms of sexual deviancy such as sado-masochists, pedophilia, and ….homosexuality.

    When we got to homosexuals, we talked alot about the iconic Kinsey Reports published in the mid 1900s. That’s where the estimate that around 10% of the population is gay comes from. While Kinsey was regarded as groundbreaking research at the time, its since come under harsh criticism because his huge samples were not random, and consequently, biased. So the 10% figure Kinsey came up with is suspect, but for a long time that was considered a good rule of thumb.

    But what I really wanted to say is that I believe the Gallup poll so vastly overestimates the gay population because the gay lobby is so powerful.

    For example, in the 1980s, they were able to get Congress to spend many tens of billions to finance research into AIDS, despite the fact many, many more multiples of people died and suffered from more common diseases like various forms of cancer, diabetes, and so on.

    Now they are on the verge of persuading society to roll back 5000 years of civilization to accept gay marriage. And to overturn military policy and allow gay people to openly serve in the armed forces.

    So, when I took my course 30 years ago, homosexuality was considered deviant, abnormal behavior. But in the last 30 years it has become accepted and normalized. The only deviant behavior I studied in that class that is now normalized is homosexuality. I think that is a reflection of the power of the gay lobby — not just in politics but in the media and academia.

    Some oppressed and victimized group, huh?

  32. neo-neocon Says:

    The preponderance of research indicates that homosexuality (like many things) is most likely a combination of nature/nurture to the tune of 50/50.

  33. thomass Says:

    yeah, what the first guy said. It used to be that if you didn’t shout ‘10%!’ when asked; the left would imply you had a side agenda (anti gay, were repressed gay yourself, et cetera).

  34. kolnai Says:

    I don’t want to get too deep into this, but I do want to throw something out there –

    It’s been my understanding that the only alternative is not genes vs. nurture/choice; the focus as of late, anyway, has been on prenatal environment, i.e., mommy’s womb and the levels of testosterone or estrogen present. I’m foggy on the details, and I don’t care to go look anything right now, but the idea is that whatever it is that “juices” a man to be a “man’s man” in the womb, gays tend to get less of that.

    This creates the predisposition, and then nurture probably takes its course from there. Basically from what I’ve read (and from my own experience in having some gay friends) I think neo’s probably right – 50/50. I just wanted to add that the “50” that is not nurture need not necessarily be genetic in order to be “nature.”

  35. waltj Says:

    Thanks, Ben David. That’s something that actually makes some sense. And now that you mention it, the gay guys I’ve known have largely conformed to the type of family situation you described. It’s a small sample, to be sure, but a sensitive boy with a distant father (I didn’t know any that had actual abusive fathers, at least not that I ever knew about) combined with the doting and domineering mother fits quite well. A perfect storm of nature and nurture.

  36. neo-neocon Says:

    kolnai: for example, this sort of thing

  37. Beverly Says:

    Here is an expose of the Kinsey Report:

  38. Sergey Says:

    Neo, the study you linked is quite inconclusive. Small size samples produced wide confidence intervals, which include 0 as possible measure of genetic influence. I find statistics based on large samples from general population more convincing, and it strongly indicates uniquie environmental determination as the main factor.
    This is also consistent with general theory of origin of developmental anomalies. Every phenotypical treat – morphologic, physiologic or behavioral – has some sensitive periods when it it is formed in ontogeny, and that is when a small disturbance can have a major lasting effect. For development of sexuality these periods were identified in studies of Zigmund Freud, and the role of early childhood traumas was decisively highlighted. When applying genetical theories to humans it should be always taken into account that humans have an unique trait unparalleled in all other animals: very long childhood, during which we all are just embrions in the sense of biology of development. Even distinctly human abilities, like speech and upright walking, must be learned in favorable environment, or they would not properly develop. Normal family is condition sine qua non for development of normal human behaviors. Orphanages, single parents or disfunctional families always produce lots of abnormal individuals.

  39. br549 Says:

    Take all the minorities from all directions, drive it into their brains that the democrat party cares about them, the republican party does not, and they should therefore all be democrats. Instant majority. Instantly and pemanently attched at the hip, instantly and permanently dependent on them. Yeah, it’s that shallow.

  40. I R A Darth Aggie Says:

    If sexual preference is a choice, when did I choose “straight” and why am I completely opposed to switching?

  41. Richard Aubrey Says:

    Grew up in Redford Twp. Fixed windows all over western Wayne County including downtown Detroit. Some of my best work went up in ’67.
    The description of not getting out much is pretty close to what happens to immigrants.

  42. Tesh Says:

    Incidentally, I’ve long disliked the term “homophobia”. It’s used with the same intellectual bankruptcy and dishonesty as “racism” to demonize and mock honest ideological or logical dissent. I, for one, don’t fear homosexuality or homosexuals, rather, I simply believe the behavior to be deeply offensive to God.

  43. neo-neocon Says:

    sergey: I never said the study was conclusive. No studies on this matter are conclusive. I merely cited it in response to kolnai’s post, as an example of the sort of findings he was referring to.

    Nevertheless, from my study of the literature so far, I stick with the idea of homosexuality being a complex interaction (VERY roughtly 50/50) of genetics and environment. That is what the preponderance of evidence suggests to me, and twin studies are part of that and are almost always smaller in size. There is also a great deal of evidence about inrauterine hormonal environments influencing the orientation of the developing brain, masculinizing or feminizing it.

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