The American public — and especially young Americans — greatly overestimate the percentage of the American population that identifies as gay or lesbian, according to a new Gallup poll.
Overall, Americans on average estimate that 23 percent of the U.S. population is gay. The real percentage is more like 3.8 percent, according to Gallup’s tracking poll. Just 9 percent of Americans were close to the right answer, and said that they thought less than 5 percent of the population identified as gay.
This isn’t exactly a new trend. In 2011, Americans said on average that they believed one-quarter of the population was gay. And in 2002, the American public gave a 21 percent estimate.
Young people aged 18 to 29 most overestimate the percentage. They say they think about 28 percent of the population identifies as gay or lesbian. Women (27 percent) are more likely to amplify the percentage than men (19 percent).
The study presents an intriguing contrast from attitudes toward gay marriage that have shifted rapidly among the American public over the same time span. As Gallup points out, in 2002, just 38 percent of Americans said gay and lesbian relations were “morally acceptable.” That number has jumped to 63 percent today.
Americans have also become more accepting of gay marriage, as the Supreme Court prepares to decide on the constitutionality of gay marriage across the nation.
In a CNN poll earlier this year, 63 percent of respondents said they believed gay couples should have a constitutional right to get married. And all voters polled this year in three early presidential voting states said it was “unacceptable” for a prospective candidate to oppose gay marriage, according to NBC News/Marist College polls.
Gallup partly chalks up the American public’s misconception to an overall lack of knowledge about demographics. For example, according to Gallup, they believe about one-third of the U.S. population is black and about 30 percent is Hispanic. Both of those estimates are about twice higher than the actual percentage.
“Americans with the highest levels of education make the lowest estimates of the gay and lesbian population, underscoring the assumption that part of the reason for the overestimate is a lack of exposure to demographic data,” Gallup writes.
Here’s a full breakdown of Americans’ estimate of the gay and lesbian population by different demographics:
Brett LoGiurato is the senior national political correspondent at Fusion, where he covers all things 2016. He'll give you everything you need to know about politics, with a healthy side of puns.