Reality Check: Ahead of Third GOP Debate, Public Opinion and Election Results Highlight the Continued Failure of Attacks on LGBTQ+ People

by Alana Caesar

Reality Check: Ahead of Third GOP Debate, Public Opinion and Election Results Highlight the Continued Failure of Attacks on LGBTQ+ People

GOP Presidential Candidates Bring Records of Hostility and Dehumanizing Lies Toward LGBTQ+ People

MIAMI, FL - Tonight, one night after voters rejected anti-LGBTQ+ policies and rhetoric in multiple states and in the wake of a previous debate that featured rampant transphobia from the candidates, five GOP presidential hopefuls will appear on stage for the third Republican primary debate. Last night, legislative candidates in Virginia who ran transphobic campaigns lost, restoring full pro-equality control to the state’s General Assembly. In Kentucky, Governor Beshear stood by transgender youth and defeated Daniel Cameron, who spent millions on transphobic messaging.

Despite its prominence in the GOP primary, new polling released yesterday shows yet again that anti-trans attacks resonate with very few voters, and only rile up a small, radical faction of the Republican base. Furthermore, the polling indicates attacks on the trans community are galvanizing Democratic-aligned voters more than Republicans.

“Tonight’s debate won’t be about the legitimate concerns of everyday folks. Instead, we expect to see another parade of far-right extremism and hate from the candidates on the stage . This field of presidential hopefuls continues to target the LGBTQ+ community through their homophobic, transphobic campaigns while promising a continued assault on access to healthcare and equity for transgender people. But we are watching their plan to scapegoat and demonize our community actively fail. The American people continue to reject their divisive politics and baseless attacks on the LGBTQ+ community, women, immigrants, and people of color. They are demanding serious leaders with real solutions to pressing issues–and they won’t find any on the debate stage in Miami.”

Kelley Robinson, President of the Human Rights Campaign

Roundup of Public Opinion on LGBTQ+ Rights:

The vast majority of Americans — 7 in 10 — think that politicians are not informed enough about abortion and gender-affirming care to create fair policies

According to September polling by The 19th and SurveyMonkey, Americans would prefer that politicians either protect transgender people or not focus on transgender issues at all. Only 17% of Americans, and only 29% of Republicans, say politicians should focus on restricting gender-affirming care.

Americans Believe the Amount of Anti-LGBTQ+ Legislation Is Excessive, Agreeing It Is “Political Theater”

Likely voters across all political parties look at GOP efforts to flood state legislatures with anti-LGBTQ+ legislation as political theater. Polling indicates that 64% of all likely voters, including 72% of Democrats, 65% of Independents, and 55% of Republicans think that there is “too much legislation” aimed at “limiting the rights of transgender and gay people in America” (Data For Progress survey of 1,220 likely voters, 3/24-26, 2023). This quote from Cuban-American former Republican Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen sums it up:

“Intolerance is not a good look on anyone. I remain optimistic that voters will see through this charade and will encourage their elected officials to solve the real problems of America instead of masquerading as Moral Police Officers.”

Two National Surveys This Year Report Opposition to Bans on Gender-Affirming Care

Two national polls found that majorities of Americans oppose “criminalizing” or “banning” gender transition-related medical care for minors: NPR/Marist on 3/20-23, 2023 and Grinnell College National Survey on 3/14-19, 2023. Democrats and Independents drive opposition to such legislation, suggesting that support for such bans carries risk in a general election context.

Majorities Disapprove of Banning LGBTQ+ Content in Schools – and Seem Prepared to Punish Candidates Who Do So

When asked if middle school libraries should include materials related to “gender identity” (57% “should”) and “sexual orientation” (56%), the majority of Americans believe this content should be available. In fact, by a margin of 32 percentage points, Americans are more worried that “materials that could be valuable to students will be removed from school libraries” (62%), than worry that “materials that could be harmful to students will remain in school libraries” (30%). Yet again, Democrats and Independents are in a different place than their GOP counterparts suggesting headaches for Republicans in the 2024 elections. (Grinnell College National Poll, 3/14-19, 2023)

Indeed, it looks like this issue could be a disqualifier for elected officials who support curriculum censorship and book bans, based on recent polling (Ipsos, 4/24-25, 2023 among 1,005 adults nationwide, the vast majority of whom are registered to vote). More than six in 10 Americans say they would be less likely to back a candidate who “supports policies that ban books in schools and in school libraries on subject matter that deals with sex, sexual orientation, and gender identity” (38% more likely, 62% less likely.)

DeSantis’ Anti-LGBTQ+ Policies Don’t Sit Well with Most Americans

DeSantis’ transparently anti-LGBTQ+ strategy isn’t working. By nearly a two-to-one margin, Americans say their opinion of the Florida governor is “less favorable” (42%) than more so (23% more favorable) “as a result of his fight over LGBTQ+ issues in Florida.”

His tussle with Disney is also not helping his national prospects – and voters are paying attention.

More voters of all political stripes are more inclined to agree that Disney was within its right to criticize Florida’s “Don’t Say LGBTQ+” legislation (55% yes, 23% no). Even more are inclined to agree that the Governor is “punishing Disney for exercising their right to free speech” (64%) than believe DeSantis is “rightfully rolling back special treatment for Disney” (36%) (Ipsos, 4/24-25, 2023).

Bans on Drag Shows are Deeply Unpopular with the Public

Nearly six in 10 (58%) Americans oppose laws that would restrict drag shows or performances in their state, while 39% support legislation to restrict these performances. While 61% of Republicans are in favor of these bans, 73% of Democrats and 57% of Independents oppose the proposed limitations (NPR/Marist on 3/20-23, 2023).

Most Say Businesses Should Not Have Right to Deny Service Based on Sexual Orientation Despite the Supreme Court’s Decision in the 303 Creative Case, Which Validated Such Discrimination in Certain Instances

The March 2023 Grinnell College National Pollreports that more than two-thirds of Americans (68%) oppose denial of service to LGBTQ+ individuals because of religious objections to homosexuality. Slightly more than one-quarter (27%) support religious refusal.

PRRI's 2022 American Values Atlas

Americans Continue to Be Decidedly in Favor of Same-Sex Marriage

There is consensus among opinion researchers that support for marriage equality is also high, with support hovering around 70%. According to PRRI’s 2022 American Values Atlas (a random sample of 22,984 adults conducted in the winter of 2022), support for same-sex marriage is at 60% or greater in 43 states. Mississippi is the only state in the country below 50% (at 49%).

Support for Equality Act, Nondiscrimination Protections for LGBTQ+ Individuals Continues to Be Exceedingly High. It’s an Issue that Transcends Partisanship, Religious Affiliation, and Geography.

According to PRRI, eight in ten Americans (80%) favor laws that would protect gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people against discrimination in jobs, public accommodations, and housing. Nearly half (48%) support these protections “strongly.”

Overwhelming numbers of Democrats (90%), Independents (82%), and Republicans (66%), favor nondiscrimination provisions for LGBTQ+ people. Support has grown over the last five years among all three partisan groups.

Strong majorities of voters in every state support these laws. In fact, there is no state in the nation where support is below 65%. It is also worth noting that vast majorities of most major religious groups support nondiscrimination protections for LGBTQ+ people.

Americans Support for the Equality Act Is Predicated on the Belief that Discrimination Is a Reality for the Trans Community.

Support is high for these protections because Americans know discrimination exists. Polling by PRRI in September 2022 showed that 68% believe “there is a lot of discrimination” against transgender people.

Members of the LGTBQ+ community agree. The “2023 US National Survey on the Mental Health of Young People” conducted among 35,208 LGBTQ+ youth ages 13 to 24 in the winter of 2022 by The Trevor Project reported these findings:

  • 64% of transgender and nonbinary youth reported that they have experienced discrimination in the past year because of their gender identity.

  • A majority (53%) of young LGBTQ+ Americans say they were verbally harassed because people thought they were LGBTQ+.

  • 24% of LGBTQ+ youth reported that they have been physically threatened or harmed due to either their sexual orientation or gender identity. The numbers are a bit higher (27%) for transgender and nonbinary young people.

Paid for by Human Rights Campaign PAC ( Not authorized by any candidate or candidate’s committee.

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