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'Very large partisan gaps' in views on transgender issues, study finds

by Julie Moreau /
FILE PHOTO: Demonstrators protest for transgender rights on February 25, 2017 in Chicago, Illinois. The demonstrators were angry with President Donald Trump's decision to reverse Obama-era policy requiring public schools to allow trans students to use the bathroom that corresponds with their gender identity.Scott Olson / Getty Images

This year's election season has brought to the fore sharp partisan divides on transgender rights, and according to a new report, this divide is representative of the starkly different views Republicans and Democrats have on gender identity issues.

Pew Research Center, a nonpartisan, non-advocacy organization, surveyed 4,573 Americans between August and September of this year. The study found 80 percent of Republicans and Republican-leaning independents believe that “whether someone is a man or a woman is determined by the sex they were assigned at birth.” By contrast, most Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents (64 percent) believe a person’s gender “can be different from the sex they were assigned at birth.”

Overall, conservative views about gender predominate in the general population — just over half the respondents (54 percent) said being a man or woman is determined at birth.

2017 Election Season

The partisan divide played out in this year's election season — perhaps most visibly in last week's race for the Virginia House of Delegates' 13th District.

 Danica Roem, who ran for house of delegates against GOP incumbent Robert Marshall, is greeted by supporters as she prepares to give her victory speech. The Washington Post / Getty Images

Democrat Danica Roem, a transgender woman, defeated longtime Republican incumbent Bob Marshall in the race. Marshall supported a “bathroom bill” during his time in office that would have mandated transgender people — like his opponent — use restrooms that correspond with their “original birth certificate,” not their gender identity. On the campaign trail, Marshall referred to Roem using male pronouns.

In Minnesota, following the election of two transgender people to the Minneapolis City Council last week, Republican lawmaker Mary Franson tweeted, “A guy who thinks he’s a girl is still a guy with a mental health condition.” Franson later responded to the backlash against her tweet, saying she “should have shown grace."

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In Alabama, Republican Senate candidate Roy Moore, who is currently confronting several allegations of sexual misconduct, told reporters last week, “The transgenders don't have rights,” according to Alabama's Montgomery Advertiser. In the same speech, Moore differentiated himself from his opponent in the December special election, Democrat Doug Jones, saying, “He believes in transgender bathrooms and transgenders in the military. I disagree with him 100 percent.”

'Very Large Partisan Gaps'

Juliana Horowitz, associate director of research at the Pew Research Center, said this recently released report is part of a larger project about “how the public sees gender differences.”

“At the most basic level, there is a lot of disagreement,” she said. But what stood out to her most about these latest findings were the “very large partisan gaps” in views about gender identity.

“For Democrats, education and ideology are really connected, and we don't see the same division among Republicans,” she explained. Nearly 80 percent of Democrats with a bachelor’s degree said someone's gender “can be different from the sex they were assigned at birth,” while 60 percent of Democrats with some college and 57 percent of Democrats with a high school diploma or less shared the same view, according to the report.

“One finding that was really striking to us was that there weren’t more generational differences,” Horowitz said, noting there is a “very small gap between millennials and older generations.”

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Half of millennials (18-36) surveyed agreed that "whether a person is a man or a woman" can differ from their "sex at birth," while 41 percent of Gen X (37-52) respondents, 43 percent of baby boomers (53-71) and 37 percent of those in the silent generation (72-89) agreed.

Horowitz said she expected “younger Republicans might have slightly different views based on the context that younger Republicans might have.” The vast majority (80 percent) of Republicans, regardless of age, believe people's gender is determined solely by their sex assignment at birth, according to the findings. “We didn’t see the wide gaps that we though we might,” Horowitz added.

Americans are also divided on whether "society has gone too far in accepting transgender people.” Nearly 40 percent of all adult respondents said society has "not gone far enough," 32 percent believe society has "gone too far" and 27 percent believe society's acceptance of trans people has "been about right."

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the report found this divide also runs along party lines. While 60 percent of Democrats or Democratic-leaning respondents said society has "not gone far enough," nearly 60 percent of Republicans or Republican-leaning respondents said society has "gone too far."

Horowitz said the study's findings speak to “the rise of partisanship and party polarization" in the U.S. “We really do see it in everything we do."

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