A new Gallup study released Thursday found that Americans continue to overestimate the percentage of the population that identifies as gay or lesbian, and they do so at a rate of about five times the actual percentage.
“U.S. adults estimate that nearly one in four Americans (23.6%) are gay or lesbian. Gallup has previously found that Americans have greatly overestimated the U.S. gay population, recording similar average estimates of 24.6% in 2011 and 23.2% in 2015,” the group reports.
That estimate is “more than five times Gallup’s more encompassing 2017 estimate that 4.5% of Americans are LGBT, based on respondents’ self-identification as being lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender,” Gallup explains. When the estimates are broken down by demographics, even the most conservative estimates still remain about four times higher than the 4.5% estimated actual number.
“Just your best guess, what percent of Americans today would you say are gay or lesbian?” the survey, conducted in 2011, 2015 and 2019, asks. The mean results have been remarkably consistent: 24.6%, 23.2%, 23.6%, respectively.
In the May 2019 study, only 8% estimated in the most accurate range: less than 5%. About one in ten (9%) guessed between 5 and 10%, while 14% guessed between 10 and 15%. Ten% estimated between 15 and 20%. Nearly one in five (19%) estimated between 20 and 25%, while over a third (35%) said more than 25%.
Gallup found that women estimated a higher percentage of those who identify as gay or lesbian than men (29.7% compared to 17.4%). A similar imbalance exists between younger adults (18 to 19) and older adults (65 or older). Millennials’ mean estimate of the percentage is 28.5%, while the 65 and older crowd says 17.5%. Democrats also estimate at a higher rate than Republicans: 26.3% compared to 18.3%.
Noting that a 2002 study found similar results, Gallup offered some theories on why this overestimation appears to be so entrenched, including overrepresentation in entertainment, as promoted by LGBT groups, like GLAAD:
Overestimations of the nation’s gay population may in part be due to the group’s outsized visibility. An annual report by GLAAD, an LGBT advocacy group, found that representation of LGBT people as television series regulars on broadcast primetime scripted programming reached an all-time high of 8.8% in the 2018-2019 television season, which is nearly twice Gallup’s estimate of the actual population.
Gallup complicates the theory, however, by noting that Americans have frequently overestimated the percentage of minority groups. That trend, along with a growing number of LGBT-identifying millennials, as Gallup has found in other studies, may be influencing the skewed perception of how many people in the country actually identify as gay or lesbian. The increased percentage of millennials who identify as LGBT also explains why that demographic assumes a higher percentage than older Americans, Gallup notes. (See the full study results here.)