Americans Vastly Overestimate Size of Gay Population, Gallup Poll Reveals

A new poll shows that a majority of Americans believe at least one in four people are gay or lesbian.

A new Gallup poll suggests most Americans vastly overestimate how large the gay community is in the United States.

According to the survey, released Thursday, a majority of people believe close to one in four (23.6 percent) people are gay or lesbian.

Americans have continuously overestimated the size of the gay population in recent years—estimating 24.6 percent in 2011 and 23.2 percent in 2015. Only about 4.5% of Americans self-identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender, according to an earlier Gallup study. But in this most recent poll, conducted in May, just 9 percent of respondents estimated under 5 percent. (Another 11 percent guessed between 5 and 10 percent.)

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Americans estimation of the size of the gay population in the U.S. Gallup

"Exactly who makes up the LGBT community and how this group should be measured is a subject of some debate," Gallup pointed out in 2012. "There are a number of ways to measure lesbian, gay, and bisexual orientation, and transgender status. Sexual orientation can be assessed by measuring identity as well as sexual behaviors and attractions."

Women estimated that about three in 10 Americans (29.7 percent) are gay or lesbian, the highest of any demographic, and much higher than men thought (17.4 percent).

Gallup also noted that Democrats and independents estimated about a quarter of Americans are gay, while Republicans guessed a bit lower (18.3 percent).

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A look at how big Americans think the gay community is, broken down by key demographics Gallup

In the 1940s, the Kinsey Report helped inflate the size of the gay population in people's minds: Alfred Kinsey maintained sexuality was fluid, claiming that 13 percent of men were "predominately homosexual" for at least three years between ages 16 and 55. He also reported that at least 37 percent of men and 20 percent of women had some same-sex experience between the beginning of adolescence and old age.

In the 1970s, the National Gay and Lesbian Taskforce crunched Kinsey's data and touted the statistic that 10 percent of the population was homosexual.

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A new Gallup poll reveals most Americans overestimate the size of the gay population. Getty

Many of Kinsey's findings have been questioned, though, as was his methodology. (He sought out respondents in prison and in the gay underground.) Many people are still closeted to some degree, but Gallup reports "no measurement procedure has produced any figures suggesting that more than one out of five Americans are gay or lesbian."

Efforts to provide LGBT representation in the media have also skewed people's perceptions. This month, the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall riots, companies all over the country are promoting initiatives to celebrate Pride.

And the growing number of young people identifying as LGBT can also color perception. A 2017 GLAAD study found that 20 percent of Millennials identified as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or queer. That's nearly three times higher than Baby Boomers (7 percent) and significantly more than Gen-Xers (12 percent.)