Study: Public polls underestimate same-sex attraction, especially among Christians

By David Ferguson
Wednesday, November 13, 2013 14:13 EDT
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Recent research suggests that people are more honest about the extent of their attraction to their own sex if they are assured that their answers will be anonymous. According to Bloomberg News, unless people believe that their identities will be kept secret and separate from their answers, they tend to be less than honest about their same sex attractions and, interestingly, about their negative attitudes toward LGBT people.

A team of researchers at Ohio State University found that when respondents were assured of anonymity, their admission to same sex attraction and activity rose sharply. In a normal survey, an average of 17 percent of those surveyed (12 percent of men, 24 percent of women) said they have had a sexual experience with someone of their own sex. For the anonymous, or “veiled” survey, the number rose to 27 percent (17 percent of men and 43 percent of women), an increase of 58 percent.

In the standard survey, 11 percent or respondents said they did not consider themselves to be heterosexual. In the veiled result, the percentage leapt to 19 percent, a 65 percent increase.

However, the incidence of anti-LGBT sentiment underwent a similar jump between standard and veiled survey results. Bloomberg’s Cass R. Sunstein wrote, “Did participants believe that discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation should be illegal? In the standard survey, only about 14 percent said no. That number increased to 25 percent in the veiled report.”

Sixteen percent of respondents said they would be uncomfortable having a LGBT manager at work, whereas the veiled result was 27 percent.

The amount of variance between standard and veiled answers among participants varied sharply by age group. Younger respondents’ replies about same sex attractions varied hardly at all. Researchers attribute the increased honesty to the decrease in societal stigma toward LGBT people.

Among older people and those who identify as Christian, the variance between their standard and veiled answers was particularly extreme. The veiled report showed an increase in non-heterosexuality and same sex experiences of more than 100 percent.

Also, the difference between those who were nominally accepting of an LGBT manager at work, but who privately expressed negative feelings at that prospect was most acute among respondents who identify as Republicans. “A minority of Republicans (35 percent) said they would be unhappy with an LGBT manager,” wrote Sunstein. “Under the veiled report, most Republicans (67 percent) said they would be unhappy.”

The Ohio State team’s results suggest that the real LGBT community is significantly larger than has been reported under normal survey models. It is also important to note, Sunstein said, “that Coffman and her colleagues didn’t have a representative sample, so the total percentages can’t be taken as reflective of what the general American population thinks and does. Among other things, the participants in their study were younger, more liberal and better educated than the general U.S. population.”

[image of happy lesbian couple via Shutterstock.com]

David Ferguson
David Ferguson
David Ferguson is an editor at Raw Story. He was previously writer and radio producer in Athens, Georgia, hosting two shows for Georgia Public Broadcasting and blogging at Firedoglake.com and elsewhere. He is currently working on a book.
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