Where Is the Public on the Transgender Bathroom Controversy? Depends How You Ask!

Polls paint an ambiguous picture.


Restroom sign
Sam Howzit / Flickr

Don't believe everything you read, including bold claims about the percentage of Americans who do or don't support laws requiring transgender people to use one bathroom or another. There is very strong evidence that poll responses can vary dramatically depending on how a question is worded, such that the "hard data" people love to share can start to look pretty squishy.

The Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI) is circulating numbers from January showing that "most (71 percent) Americans, including more than six in ten (64 percent) North Carolina residents, favor general LGBT nondiscrimination laws."

At the same time, the latest Reuters/Ipsos poll finds a bare plurality of respondents answering that "people should use public restrooms according to their biological sex" rather than "according to the gender with which they identify."

Can both those things be true? 

I could parse the different methodologies, observing, for instance, that PRRI aggregated interviews taken over the course of a full year, while Reuters looks at a five-day rolling average. But the more important thing to understand here is how much question wording matters.

Back in 2014 I pointed out that just adding a reference to "religious or moral objections" could flip people from supporting to opposing Obamacare's contraception mandate (the provision requiring even faith-based employers to provide birth control coverage to their workers). I hypothesized that the same would be true on what we at Reason have come to refer to as the gay cake question. I wrote:

It's one thing for a respondent to be against letting businesses "refuse to serve same-sex couples." It's another thing to say people shouldn't be allowed to "decline to participate in a same-sex wedding." The former evokes the image of a restauranteur or shopkeeper throwing gay people out of his business, while the latter sounds more like he's politely reserving the right not to take someone on as a new client. The end result might be the same, but the connotations are worlds apart.

On the transgender bathroom issue, too, it's very likely that people are responding more to the way the specific question they've been asked makes them feel than they are revealing any deep-seated beliefs about how this controversy ought to be resolved.

To prove my point, I direct your attention to a third survey, this one conducted by ORC on behalf of CNN.

When that poll asked people what they thought of laws "that require transgender individuals to use facilities that correspond to their gender at birth rather than their gender identity," 57 percent held the "liberal" position of strongly or somewhat opposing such legislation (compared to 38 percent who held the "conservative" position of strongly or somewhat supporting it). But when the same poll asked the same people about "laws that guarantee equal protection for transgender people in jobs, housing and public accommodations," an overwhelming three out of four took the liberal position of saying they were in favor.

The lesson here is that when you frame an issue in terms of "equal protection" and "guaranteeing rights," you can get a different picture than when you bring up specific policy questions. Note that PRRI asked about non-discrimination laws generally while Reuters queried people on bathroom use by people whose gender identity differs from their biological sex, a potentially more fraught topic.

Likewise, the Reuters question, which had to do with people's opinion about which bathroom others should ideally use, returned a more conservative result than did CNN's, which asked about support for a law that would impose a legal requirement on them. Even if a significant chunk of the population isn't totally comfortable with biological men using a women's public restroom (or vice versa!), fewer seem to want to get the state involved to stop it.

NEXT: Social Conservatives Call for Stricter TV Ratings

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  1. Man, those public accommodation laws have come back to bite us in our big, gay ass.

    1. Things get so complicated when it becomes official policy to harm people and take their shit.

      1. Those are literally the only functions of government.

        1. Government = Violent Force

          1. Yes, but the problem is they are initiating force. The proper function of government is to defend individual negative liberty with the retaliatory use of force. If they stick to that it’s all good.

      2. The latter is certainly a primary function of a public, or any, bathroom.

  2. But the more important thing to understand here is how much question wording matters.

    “Do you want a va-jj lurking nearby when you’re taking a dump?”
    YES[] NO[]

    “Would you be comfortable popping a squat with some random cock swinging around in your eye line?”
    YES[] NO[]

    1. “Do you want a va-jj lurking nearby when you’re taking a dump?”
      YES[] NO[]

      Yes, especially during #2.

      “Would you be comfortable popping a squat with some random cock swinging around in your eye line?”
      YES[] NO[]

      Everyone gets this from time to time now. No laws necessary.

    2. What kind of bathrooms are you visiting where you *ever* have “some random cock swinging around in your eye line”?

      I read things like this and all I can think is “straight people are weird”.

  3. I wonder what percentage of those who support people going to the bathroom of their choice would extend that courtesy to gym showers.

    1. “extend that courtesy to gym showers.”

      That’s going to be the fun one. It’s already started.

    2. I wonder what percentage of those who support people going to the bathroom of their choice would extend that courtesy to gym showers.

      The law doesn’t differentiate. Thankfully, as any right-thinking person knows, nothing weird could ever possibly happen.

  4. RE: Where Is the Public on the Transgender Bathroom Controversy?

    The public is setting on the toilet giving birth to democrats and republicans.

    1. The toilet is the right venue for that.

    2. On the morning news today the anchor guy was wearing a god-awful combo of a piss-yellow tie and a turd-brown sport jacket. I commented to my wife that he was dressing in poo and pee in deference to the transgender toilet issue. She didn’t think it was funny, but then again she never thinks anything I say is funny.

  5. So if gender/race is a social construct, then the whole foundation for equal protection doesn’t apply. The whole purpose is you can’t change who you are, so you can’t discriminate.

    But if you can just say I’m a man or I’m a white person, then it is a choice.

    Same with Gay marriage, because people are ‘born that way’

    1. It’s a social construct unless you don’t like the one society constructed for you.

    2. Religion is covered in every non-discrimination and equal protection law/statute/policy/etc in this country.

      So no, the foundation for such things is *not* that they are immutable.

  6. To prove my point, I direct your attention to a third survey this.


  7. I thought the study that was the most interesting asked the question in a more straightforward way: Do you think a woman should be able to use a men’s room, do you think a man should be able to use the women’s room.

    On the second question people got a lot more wobbly.

    1. Define “use”. *** wink-wink-nudge-nudge ***

      1. Say no more, say no more…

    2. On the second question people got a lot more wobbly.

      Who was wobbly, the men or the women?

      Are the wymenz worried or is this men attempting to be chivalrous and protect their helpless women?

      1. As I recall, both got wobbly, but men were generally more wobbly than the women. Support dropped for both considerably, but (unsurprisingly) if I recall, the men got all chivalrous… either that or they had daughters.

    3. ‘But your honor. It’s isn’t rape-rape rape because, you know, I’m actually a woman! Am I free to go or are you racist?’

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    1. That depends … what bathrooms do they use?

  9. Has anyone polled the public on getting rid of separate male and female bathrooms? ‘Cuz that where this is headed…

    1. Considering France was doing this back in the 50s, I’m pretty sure we’ll survive. It would just sure be nice if we did it without progressive legislation forcing us to do it.

      1. I have been to France multiple times and the bathrooms were always male or female. What are you talking about.

        It is nice of you to totally dismiss people’s concerns.

        1. My mother spent a lot of time in France after the war. She spun the tales of unisex bathrooms to me when I was but a wee bairn.

        2. One of the most startling aspects of using a public loo in Paris is the fact that many of them are unisex. Ladies, try and maintain your sang froid because a lot of the local guys have no problem urinating with the stall door open! Gents, just act naturally and stroll blithely into a stall (please close the door?). This is normal in Paris and the locals are used to it. Visitors may find it shocking at first, but you will be surprised at how quickly you can adapt.


      2. Putting France and survive in the same sentence requires the qualifier “perhaps by a miracle”

    2. There was a movement to do that in the 1960s and 1970s but it sputtered and died.

    3. I think you’ll just start seeing multiple single person unisex restrooms in private businesses. I would probably just go ahead and do it if I were putting in a business somewhere. Extra sinks really biggest additional expense. Course you could just convert some mop buckets:) lol

      1. Hows about we just let private businesses set their own bathroom policy?

        BTW, isn’t this Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI) some sort of leftard front group famous for biased surveys?

  10. There’s almost always something that proponents of bastardizing our civil society haven’t thought about, that put the lie to the idiotic plan from the outset.

    For instance, would proponents of forcing bakers to create a cake for a gay wedding be as enthused about a gay couple being commanded to create a cake celebrating gay conversion therapy which reads: “Thank Jesus You’re Not A Faggot Anymore!”

    Same thing with these bullshit faith-based initiatives like religious daycare. Sure I guess traditional churches can receive tax dollars to set up their little indoctrination centers, provided that I’m able to launch my new daycare startup, “Satan’s Little Helpers,” where the tykes file in underneath an inverted pentagram dripping with blood.

    Ask a traditionally black diner somewhere down south how they’d like it if a bunch of honkeys wearing sheets with eyeholes wanted them to cater a White Power luncheon.

    Solution: You own your fucking business! If you don’t want to serve someone, it’s your fucking business. If the owner of a bar, all of the cooks, greeters, waitstaff and managers, as well as every patron want to allow smoking in the bar then it really is nobody’s damn business except theirs.

    Jesus, how did we get to this point?

    1. For instance, would proponents of forcing bakers to create a cake for a gay wedding be as enthused about a gay couple being commanded to create a cake celebrating gay conversion therapy which reads: “Thank Jesus You’re Not A Faggot Anymore!”

      Freedom of association is good when it allows you to reject people you don’t like but it is bad when it allows people you don’t like to reject people you like…

    2. This is why the victim hierarchy exists. Punching up is a-ok. Punching down is extremely problematic.
      There, cognitive dissonance solved.

    3. If you give money to Christian day cares, then you have to give it to Muslim day schools as well. Fair is fair. How about the government not pay for anyone’s daycare?

      1. Exactly. Or force a bunch of bar patrons to ban smoking because someone who isn’t even a regular complains.

        And in the case of the mandatory smoke-free bar, there’s an additional idiocy: If there were that many people clamoring for a smoke-free bar then surely someone would have started one. But, prior to the smoking ban coming, I’m not sure I had ever even heard of a smoke-free bar.

        1. All Ted’s Montana Grills were non-smoking since inception. Plenty of places had non-smoking throughout the joint policies before anybody regulated smoking sections in the US. Not shitting your point, just tossing in that there were voluntary non-smoking places before any law was passed for it.

    4. If the owner of a bar, all of the cooks, greeters, waitstaff and managers, as well as every patron want to allow smoking in the bar then it really is nobody’s damn business except theirs.


      1. RIght. If there really is this widespread detestation of smoke in public places, then that smoky bar will simply go out of business, having been replaced by Breathe Easy Saloons.

    5. “For instance, would proponents of forcing bakers to create a cake for a gay wedding be as enthused about a gay couple being commanded to create a cake celebrating gay conversion therapy which reads: “Thank Jesus You’re Not A Faggot Anymore!””

      So you don’t understand how non-discrimination laws work.

      No baker can refuse a customer because their religion. All bakers can refuse specific messages. Whether that message is “Hail Hydra”, “Puppies are Cute”, “God Hates Fags”, or “Priests Diddle Kids”, all bakers can refuse the message, but you can’t refuse customers based on specific criteria.

      Which you see in the cases. Masterpiece Cakes and Sweet Cakes both refused the *customer*. They said “you’re gay? no wedding cake. Full stop. We don’t care if it’s a plan sheet cake without message, we won’t make you anything no way no how.”

      There was that other cake shop in Colorado that was like “yes, I’ll bake you a cake, it’ll be a lovely bible-shaped cake like I make for anyone with the money. No, I refuse your specific message, but I will offer you the frosting tube to put it on yourself.” There was the t-shirt company in Kentucky or Tennesee that said “we won’t print a shirt that says gay pride on it”. Those refused the *message*, not the *customer*, and are on the right side of the law.

      Rail about non-discrimination laws if you want, but at least know enough about what you’re objecting to not create a strawman.

  11. I would take the survey a little more seriously if one of the questions included some form of “Is the number of fucks you give about this nonsense more than zero?” and a follow-up question of “If so, why for chrissakes, you fucking moron, you?”


      Oh wait.

      *how was the Warty imitation 1-10 [ ]*

      1. *how was the Warty imitation 1-10 [ ]*

        I give it a 7. Not enough slurs. No H&R poster being directly mocked. No argument being entirely dodged by using said mockery.

    2. Or if one of the questions was “Do you believe you understand the term ‘transgender’?”


  13. You know what ‘polls’ rhymes with? (Hint: A certain cohort that would actually be motivated to answer them.)

    1. Dolls?

      I mean, holes?

    2. Mole-men?

      1. No Mole-men, just Mole-women.

        Females are strong as hell.

    3. Voles?

  14. Polls paint an ambiguous picture

    …about an ambiguous subject.

    1. Shut the fuck up, Rich! Trump said something and then recanted. That’s a lot more important than the State Dept deliberately fucking over every single FOIA request and not questioning why the SoS, her aides and her IT personal hire didn’t turn anything in upon departure.

      Jesus H Christ.

      1. Send this guy and his boss to jail immediately. They have broken the records retention law. Sweat them out.

    2. Not really related, but

      When Clinton’s emails were published on the State Department’s public reading room, only one email of his surfaced. It was a happy birthday message from his private email account to hers. She forwarded it to another staffer instructing him to “pls respond.”

      You get a “happy birthday” from someone, and you can’t even respond yourself? But you can ask someone else to do it for you?

      Or is “respond” one of these euphemisms I keep hearing so much about?

      1. You get a “happy birthday” from someone, and you can’t even respond yourself? But you can ask someone else to do it for you?

        This is the kind of professionalism we should demand from our Chief Executives. It reflects her vast experience handing tough issues, and her ability to reach out to experts when presented with challenges.

    3. “We are continuing to search for Mr. Pagliano’s emails,” Trudeau told reporters on Monday. “We are conducting a thorough search.”

      I’m sure its the same crack-team of sleuths who finally “uncovered” Lois Lerners email.

      1. And surely the first thing State did was ask tech-guru Pagliano where they are. This is really a tough one!

  15. If you are transgender, then live as the opposite sex and I can’t see how anyone that you don’t tell notices. If people do notice, then maybe you are not really transgendered and instead just an attention seeking freak?

    1. I have it on good authority that it’s in the millions.

      1. LGB is not ‘trans’.

        Trans is way smaller. The debate seems to be mainly around obfuscating “how much less than 1% are they”. I think the guesstimates range between ‘hard #s’ of post-op stats + name-changes…(0.3%) to a ‘more inclusive’ definition which includes ‘perpetual pre-ops’ plus miscellaneous which gets up to 0.6-7% or so.

        1. I was being facetious. The only asinine figure I could find in a quick google search was that article and in it, it halfass mentioned trans

          In fact, they think that 23 percent of Americans, or almost one in four, are are gays or lesbians, a Gallup survey released Thursday revealed. That’s way off: The polling organization most recently found that less than 4 percent self-identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender.

          Don’t make me work for it.

          I’m certain that it’s a fraction of a fraction, then you take a fraction of that after weeding out the attention seekers and you find the real numbers on people with that particular dysphoria.

          1. I had heard a T group claim the number was 700,000, which is app. 1/4 of one percent. However, since that quantity was stated by a group whose funding is based on T stuff, the number is likely exaggerated.

            In other words, the number is…..not too darn many.

    2. Or they waited too long to start taking hormones.

      Ugly lives matter.

      Check your unhideous privilege.

      But really, I sympathize with so-called hons. A lot of the difficulty comes not from being trans per se but from being ugly and conspicuous after transitioning.

  16. Prolly cuz social conservatives went apeshit when Sesame Street went to HBO. As if we the show was going to turn into Deadwood Thoroughfare.

    1. Missed opportunity.

    2. Game of Sesame

      1. We don’t have to imagine what a Sesame Street/Game of Thrones crossover would be like, as Sesame Street actually made one already:

        Game of Chairs

  17. Where Is the Public on the Transgender Bathroom Controversy?

    Is it a “controversy” if most people Dont Give a Shit?

    Which seems to be an option missing from many polls. They always ask people to pick A or B position, but rarely if ever ask them to weight “How important is this to you?”

    1. We should be separating the bathrooms by caste anyway.

      1. Impossible. Who would hold my piss-jar if they had their own facilities?

        1. Well it really is a tragedy of the commons. I don’t see why you can’t just have free bathrooms, 10-cent bathrooms, 50-cent bathrooms, and 2-dollar bathrooms. How much are you willing to pay for privacy, validation, cleanliness, etc.?

          1. Because that would be racist.

    2. It’s a controversy if the media mongoloids, ensconced in and aggrandized by their bubble, say so.

      Duh. Don’t you even English?

    3. How can people not ‘give a shit’ about bathrooms? Do they shit with the bears?

  18. Sex-separated bathrooms are not there for anybody’s validation. They are there for everyone’s privacy.

    I don’t understand why one person’s validation trumps everyone else’s privacy.

    SLD: Owners of bathrooms should be able to allow whomever they want in whatever bathroom they want.

    1. They don’t expect you to understand it. They expect you to deal with it.

    2. —-SLD: Owners of bathrooms should be able to allow whomever they want in whatever bathroom they want.—–

      That’s fine for private businesses, because you can choose to do business (or not do business) with a company based on its choice if you want.

      The issue is going to be with government, because usually you aren’t given a choice in that case.

  19. This is really the more interesting situation.…..cker-room/

    1. It’s interesting that if someone sent them a picture of that boy’s penis to their phone, even if they didn’t ask for it, they could be charged with child porn and could be forced to undergo a legal mauling, but if they’re exposed to it in person and they complain then they’re bigots and could be forced to undergo a legal mauling.

      1. Good point. Maybe the next dude who gets busted for sending a dick pic should say that it’s ok because he’s a girl.

  20. If even one guy who makes a point of dropping his morning deuce at the office switches to the ladies room, it’s worth it.

  21. I think the real lesson here is that no one gives a fuck about this subject and the people pushing for laws on the issue are ridiculous

  22. Was Mary Miles Minter’s Mom the ultimate libertarian?

    To avoid child labor laws while the 10-year-old was appearing in a play in Chicago, in 1912, Charlotte Shelby obtained the birth certification of her elder sister’s deceased daughter from Louisiana, and Juliet became Mary Miles Minter


      And then there’s the part about how King Vidor thought she killed William Desmond Taylor…

    2. Mom makes Mary Miles Minter more mature.


    When Leslie was nine, she told child labor investigators that she was 16 years old.

    Child Labor investigators are so judgmental by rejecting what she self-identified as…

  24. Also I thought are rights aren’t up to a vote? Or is that only on issues that may get you kicked out of the cocktail parties?

  25. How are you people capable of caring this much about this sideshow horseshit?

    1. You’re mistaking writing about and commenting on with caring about.

      Life is too long. You need to boondoggle a little.

    2. Half the posts here (including yours) are one version or another of “Who Really Gives a Shit?”.

      which doesn’t actually seem to be “caring this much” at all.

    3. OK, I’ll bite.

      Very few people care about the issue as a stand-alone issue. There are very few people affected by it.

      It’s important as a symptom of a deeper issue. Government demands to stick its nose into EVERY SINGLE LITTLE BIT of our lives and control it.

      It’s the cops engaging in civil forfeiture because FYTW. It’s the FDA forbidding the sales of potentially lifesaving drugs because FYTW. It’s the IRS because….well, because FYTW.

      Did I make my point?

    4. Gay man here.

      I care because not-caring is a luxury that I don’t get. These “bathroom bills” and “religious liberty” laws are all part of the “massive resistance” to wins on gay marriage. They’re the legal thrashings and spittle of the religious right that’s realized it’s losing the culture, and so it’s trying to push bad laws while it still can.

      And here’s the thing: even if the laws they were trying to pass weren’t overly broad and wide-hitting, they’re selling them using the same “they’re all dangerous perverts” lies they used forty years ago, so they’d have to be opposed *anyway*.

      So why do I care? ’cause not-caring is a luxury.

  26. “Moral indignation is the standard strategy for endowing the idiot with dignity.”
    -Marshall McLuhan

    Highly applicable these days, no?

    1. We know nothing of his work

  27. It’s not like there are urinals in the women’s room so I would just go to a stall. Who’s peeking at my genitalia when I’m in a stall? Sexual predators, that’s who. We are just afraid of all the sexual misconduct in the female gendered that this mixup will reveal. They call them cougars for a reason.

  28. You are all Tulpa.

    1. Malkovich Malkovich

    2. I’m not a bubo encrusted penis!

  29. The Ivory Coast is having themselves a gold rush, people are finding it to their advantage to abandon agriculture to go work in the mines. Which is a good thing for them or they would not be doing it.

    However, see if you can spot all the appeals to Top. Men. bullshit and the “idiot peasants don’t know what they’re doing” shit.

    Artisinal mining!

    1. Fucking hipsters!

    2. And the cx to the bathroom issue is…2 brands of soap?

  30. Dude I never even thought about it like that.

  31. The movie Starship Troopers told me all I need to know about the utility of co-ed bathrooms.

    1. That fightin’ the bugs is more important than who sees your wee-wee, hoo-ha, or boobies?

  32. This is the sort of situation focus groups were made for.

  33. Personally I don’t care who uses the men’s room but I can understand why women don’t want men in their’s. Men are gross. We pee all over everything and half the time someone’s left a floater.

    1. Ladies’ rooms have a reput’n of being much dirtier on avg. than men’s.

      1. I’ve never heard that in my life nor do I believe it.

        1. I’ve heard that from a number of women, though as a man who identifies as a man, I’ve never verified the claim.

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  35. If you force a Transgender male to use a male restroom there is less than a 50% chance he will make it out of the restroom unscathed. If a man dressed as women who thinks of himself as a woman goes into a women restroom who would know. If a man with a 3 day beard tries to go into a restroom with your young daughter and you don’t say halt then you need your PC ass kicked. Just stop writing laws. The people should write the laws and government should obey them or else

    1. Then the man with a 3-day beard says “sorry, I’m just following the law. Governor of NC says that trans-men like me belong in the women’s restroom”.

  36. The more I watch politics the happier I am that I am an ANARCHIST. If people living in big cities feel the need to be lead around by the nose great but leave the rest of us alone. Seriously what has the Federal government ever done for you beside tax you, spy on you, regulate you and take your sons to die in some conflict no one understands or wants. Has the State government ever done anything besides tax and regulate you. Has a city government ever done anything for you except tax you and recreate laws to keep you in line and away from the gentry.
    So if you like being taxed and kept under someone thumb welcome to America the best government on earth. People did not keep moving west because they wanted to be scalped by Idians bu because they were tired of scalped by politicians.

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