A Center for American Progress poll shows huge support for LGBT rights, as I discussed yesterday. But the poll also shows some very interesting results regarding trans rights and regarding the levels of support for LGBT rights in various regions.
This Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research poll of likely 2012 voters was conducted in the first and second weeks of April 2011 using appropriate social science methodology. The survey was done by telephone and included cellphone users. The sample was a random one, with a 95% confidence interval. There were 818 complete responses. While that is not a large number compared to the target population of 300 million, it does provide a window into what is happening in the United States.
Interestingly, this poll used a split sample to test the question of how much support levels changed when trans rights were included. Half of the sample were asked whether they favor 'protecting gay and lesbian people from discrimination in employment,' while the other half was asked whether they favor these protections for 'gay, lesbian, and transgender people.' No prompt was given to explain any of these terms, so respondents may or may not have understood exactly what they were being asked.
According to CAP, "Seventy-five percent of likely voters say they favor 'protecting gay and lesbian people from discrimination in employment,' while 73 percent say they favor these protections for 'gay, lesbian, and transgender people.' The responses are essentially identical." (I notice that the bisexuals are missing from this formulation. My guess is that the pollsters assumed that support for gays and lesbians include those who are bisexual. What do you think of that?)
The split sample technique is designed to show how different wording formulations affect the validity and reliability of the data. What this poll suggests is that, for purposes of public support, trans rights are gay rights, and vice versa. But that may depend on how many people picked up on the term "transgender." A lot of people don't know what that means, and what people don't understand, they tend to ignore, rather than seek further clarification.
Fortunately, the poll gives us some data on how many were familiar with the term "transgender." It specifically asked how many respondents were familiar with the term "transgender." It turns out that 40% of the sample said they were familiar with that term. So 60% of the people who responded to the poll had, essentially, no idea what they were answering. They heard "gay," and that was the end of that. At least that's my initial guess. But if we could find out what difference there was between people who were familiar with the term transgender, and those who weren't, that might help us figure out what the polls results mean.
As a matter of fact, after speaking with Jeff Krehely of CAP, I was able to get some information about that. It turns out that 87% of those who said they are familiar with the term "transgender" favored workplace protections for "lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender" people. (Now the bisexuals are included?) That's good news, because it's 15 points higher than the 73% support level for all respondents. This could mean that familiarizing people with the trans community will result in increasing levels of support. That remains to be seen, because there is an equally likely inference that the causation is reversed. In other words, perhaps being supportive of diversity causes familiarity with the term "transgender." Perhaps being supportive of diversity means that one seeks out information on diversity, or is open to it more than less tolerant people. Determining which way the causative arrow flows will require more research, and it could go both ways, as well. But either way, I believe it's good news, because it means that education of some kind, either explicitly about transgender people or about the importance of diversity, makes a difference.
Another fact of significance from the study is that most people who are not familiar with the term "transgender" are unsupportive of our rights (69%). When combined with the fact that most people were not familiar with the term (60%), simple multiplication shows that about 20% who said they were supportive may or may not, in fact, be supportive, because they had no idea what they were answering.
If we were to explain the meaning of "transgender" to that group, and the 73% support level held true, it would lower the true level of support for "gay, lesbian and transgender" people from 73% to 68%. The best way to address this in future research is to do a split sample, with half the respondents getting a prompt to explain what "transgender" means.
It would also be interesting to find out if there were a difference in levels of support for "transgender" people, as opposed to "transsexual" people. While each of these terms have their ambiguities, making agreement on definitions difficult, it would nonetheless be useful for the trans community to see how people react to these two quite different trans identities.
There are also some very interesting regional results. More on this next week.