Two Observations on the Gallup Poll About LGBT Identification

So Gallup re-released its poll on LGBT identification, and broke the data down by state:


Yes, Washington D.C. has ten percent of respondents identifying as LGBT (after surveying ~0.9% of the total population), and half of them work for the RNC. I kid about the latter, although it’s an open secret that the closet is quite large on that side of the aisle (in the 1990s, they used to call themselves the “Laissez Fairies”). Seriously though, it’s not surprising that professional social conservatives based in Washington are very concerned that the U.S. is being overrun with gays and lesbians, because, where they live, well, there are a lot of people who identify as LGBT. Not that this excuses the bigotry, but it does highlight the odd local effects of Washington per se on the national discourse (something also seen in discussions of public education where people focus on the D.C. public schools, the worst in the U.S. Oddly enough, the ineptitude that passes for the D.C. government is ignored when the virtues of local government are discussed. But I digress).

But there’s something about the table that really puzzles me. Here’s a hint: add the two columns together. They never sum up to 100 percent. In some states, the “don’t know/refused” are slightly over six percent. I get that people will lie about this–the identification percentage is best seen as the percent who will publicly admit to being LGBT. But to not answer? You don’t know? How is that possible? (nationally, this is 4.4.% of respondents). I would think many in denial, would lie affirmatively as opposed to not answering.

This is a pretty fundamental question too. There isn’t a lot of room for misinterpretation or bad wording unlike some questions*. Basically, you know. I’m not sure how you disentangle people refusing to answer because they are just very private people versus actual uncertainty versus an unwillingness to identify as LGBT, but the data indicating Hispanics and African-Americans have higher “don’t know/refused” rates than whites, while at the same time also having higher LGBT identification rates suggest there is perhaps some denial going on.

So, nationally, 3.4% of Americans identify as LGBT, but I wonder if the actual frequency is much higher. Alternatively, there is a lot more sexual ambiguity than most discussions are willing to entertain.


*For example, on polls that ask if there should be no restrictions on abortion, I would have to answer no, since I think there should be some, few, limited restrictions. But I don’t think regular readers would consider me to be anything other than staunchly pro-legal and safe abortion.

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5 Responses to Two Observations on the Gallup Poll About LGBT Identification

  1. The question is confusing. “Do you, personally, identify” could easily be interpreted as “Do you identify yourself to other people as…” Why not say “Do you consider,or have you ever considered yourself to be a …”

    It seems to me that the higher ID numbers – the top of the chart – are from more liberal places, and the lower end of the range is from conservative places. Unless there has been a whole lot of migration due to sexual orientation going on, it would seem to me that the distribution would be expected to be pretty uniform, and the fact that is it not is indicative of a cultural confounder.

  2. MCA says:

    Roger: I strongly suspect the skew is due to migration and closeting – in places that are more intolerant/hateful of LGBT folks, more folks will remain in the closet or move ASAP or both (move, then live freely). I suspect if the survey’s locations were broken down more finely, there would be a much, much stronger signal of rural vs urban as folks simply move to nearby big cities within the state or region.

    More generally, ID can be tricky. I’m ostensibly bi, but due to low relationship sample size (or, put less delicately, because I can still calculate what roll I need to hit a goblin using a +4 longsword and with a THAC0 of 15), I’ve only ever been in relationships or had sex with women, which makes it sometimes feel odd to me to identify as bi, since my lived experiences are much closer to other straight guys.

  3. Min says:

    First, I was surprised by the low numbers. Why? Because of the bisexual category. It would not surprise me to find that a large proportion of those who did not answer have had homosexual experiences or attractions. “Gee, does that threesome where I kissed the quarterback while the cheerleader went down on him count?”

    Second, I agree that “identify” is a terrible word here. For shame, Gallup!

    Third, LGBT people tend to migrate to cities, where there is more acceptance, and they are more likely to find like-minded partners. I expect that that is true for people with other sexual proclivities, as well.

    3A) OTOH, the bi-species curious might stay on the farm. 😉

  4. human says:

    Well, I am attracted to both men and women but to me this is a completely different thing from “identifying as” bisexual. I probably would have a hard time answering that question.

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