Vox and Morning Consult teamed up to get an answer. Through a series of questions, we asked 2,000 registered voters last week what they thought of trans people, trans rights, laws that protect trans people from discrimination, and bathrooms.
The results were mixed. Respondents tended to report more negative feelings toward trans people than other groups. And although a plurality said they support laws that prohibit discrimination against trans people, they were divided on whether trans people should be able to use the bathroom that aligns with their gender identity.
Given that this is still a relatively new issue for most Americans, it's difficult to draw definitive conclusions from just Vox and Morning Consult's poll. But at the very least, the survey results show that as Americans begin this debate, they are closely divided, and many hold relatively negatively views toward trans people.
US voters hold relatively unfavorable views of transgender people
To begin the poll, respondents were asked to evaluate people of different groups for favorability. They were allowed to choose "very favorable," "somewhat favorable," "somewhat unfavorable," "very unfavorable," "heard of, no opinion," and "never heard of."
A majority of Americans held favorable opinions of members of all noted groups, but they tended to hold more unfavorable views toward trans people. Among the groups, only National Rifle Association (NRA) members came close to trans people in unfavorability ratings.
Very few people said they had never heard of any of these groups, ranging from 1 percent to 5 percent, depending on the group.
The Vox/Morning Consult poll asked about people's views of trans people in other ways. It asked, for instance, whether they think trans people are born trans (as the research increasingly shows) or if trans people "choose to live" as trans. It also asked the same question for gay people. Generally, people were more likely to believe gay people are born that way while trans people are not.
The poll also asked how people would react if their child turned out to be trans, or if their child turned out to be gay or lesbian. Once again, respondents generally reported more negative views for trans people — although respondents were most likely to say they wouldn't be upset.
Generally, younger people and Democrats were more likely to report a favorable view of minority groups, including gay, lesbian, and trans people. But they were less likely to report a favorable view of NRA members.
One caveat to these findings: This only gauges what people are willing to admit. It's possible that some respondents who said they have a positive view of some groups are lying about their biases, or even hold subconscious biases. (After all, researchers have found such implicit biases for black people in other kinds of studies and surveys; such biases likely exist for people of other groups, too.)
Still, the results show that Americans have, at a baseline, more negative views toward trans people than other groups. For LGBTQ advocates, that carries obviously troubling implications in securing legal protections for trans people.
A plurality of US voters said discrimination against trans people should be stopped, but are divided on bathrooms
Although US voters were more likely to say they hold unfavorable views toward trans people compared with other groups, a plurality said they support laws that shield trans people from discrimination based on their gender identity. This coincides with other surveys that find support for nondiscrimination protections for LGBTQ people.
But when it comes to bathrooms, respondents were much more divided.
The Vox/Morning Consult poll gauged support for trans people using the bathroom for their gender identity in two ways.
First, it asked, "Imagine the following situation: A student at an elementary school identifies as a girl, but has male genitals. The child, who has identified as a girl since she can remember, thinks she should be allowed to use the girl's bathroom at her school. How comfortable are you allowing the child to use the girl's bathroom?" Respondents were closely split in their responses, with 45 percent saying they'd be very or somewhat comfortable and 43 percent saying they'd be very or somewhat uncomfortable.
The poll also asked, "Should schools and other public facilities that receive taxpayer funding be required to allow students to use the bathroom that best fits their self-described gender, or not?" Again, Americans were closely divided: 42 percent said public facilities should be required to allow students to use the bathroom for their "self-described gender," while 39 percent did not.
For all these questions, younger people and Democrats were once again more likely to support trans people and their rights.
It's hard to draw sweeping conclusions from the findings. For one, a significant percentage of voters, ranging from about one in 10 to one in five, answered these policy questions with "don't know" or "no opinion." And these are still the early days of a conversation that's new to many Americans, so public opinion is likely to change over time. (Based on the age demographics, however, it does seem like the country will head to a more inclusive, equal direction for trans people.)
Gallup editor in chief Frank Newport, in analyzing the contradictory polls on bathroom views, described the current situation:
I think that at this point, I would be most likely to say that the American public has not formed firm opinions on the new issue of policies or laws surrounding transgender individuals' use of bathroom facilities and that the public is — to a degree — open to argument on either side. Plus, the available evidence does not consistently support the conclusion that Americans favor laws or policies allowing open access to bathrooms based on an individual's claimed gender identity.
So while the age demographics may indicate where the country will head eventually, it's not a sure thing just yet.
Morning Consult polled 2,000 registered voters between May 18 and May 19. The interviews were conducted using large, established online survey vendors and were weighted to approximate a target sample of registered voters based on age, race/ethnicity, gender, educational attainment, region, annual household income, home ownership status, and marital status. Results from the full survey have a margin of error of +/- 2 percentage points. Topline results are available here, and cross-tabulation results are available here.