Turns out, we’ve been imagining most of those gay hordes coming to corrupt society

Fascinating to discover that American people have imagined this whole “gay problem” to be much bigger than it really is.  I  wonder if this would be reflected in New Zealand as well?

Americans surveyed in 2011 substantially overestimated the proportion of Americans identifying as homosexual. Where most estimates reckon about 3.5% of the population are homosexual, Americans surveyed thought that somewhere between 20-25% of the population are gay or lesbian.

Some candidate hypotheses for the overestimation:

  1. Availability bias where observations of people you know carry less weight than observations from TV shows or movies: if people take pop culture as more representative of average reality than their own personal circumstances, and if homosexual characters are over-represented on TV, then this could do it.
    1. In that case, we would expect overestimation particularly among lower-IQ cohorts.
    2. This alone shouldn’t account for it: how many popular TV series other than Modern Family have at least 20% gay characters?
  2. Availability estimation of proportions where individuals of different characteristics are more or less likely to have friends or acquaintances who are gay. This would predict dispersion of estimates but shouldn’t affect estimates of the population mean unless it’s combined with downward bias in the number of people you know. If you’re asked “What proportion of the population is gay or lesbian”, and you think about how many homosexuals you know, and you then underestimate the number of heterosexuals you know, you’d bias upwards your estimate. I still can’t see how that gets you to a 6-times overestimate.  
  3. Ideology doesn’t give clear-cut predictions, or at least not to me. You could build a story where social conservatives’ fear of the ‘gay agenda’ is driven by their overestimation of that group’s proportion in the population, or you could build an equally plausible story where social conservatives’ dismissal of gay rights is founded on that the needs of a tiny proportion of the population should not drive changes in the definition of institutions that have persisted for thousands of years.

Does this reflect society’s fears?  The fear of what might happen if a gay person is left alone with you in an elevator?

Everyone overestimates, substantially. It’s so far out of whack with reality that you wonder whether it’s just a wonky survey. But the numbers are apparently consistent with the overestimates in a similar 2001 survey.
Smarter and richer people, and men, have far more accurate estimates – this isn’t out of line with fairly standard findings on other kinds of knowledge. Older cohorts were more accurate.
Republicans, conservatives, and social conservatives were more accurate, which is inconsistent with the ideological hypothesis that “gay terror” would lead to overestimating the proportion of homosexuals in the population. And while “we shouldn’t change everything for a small minority” would be consistent with social conservatives having a lower estimate than social liberals, which is true, it is not consistent with social conservatives still overestimating the population proportion more than five times over.
Intriguingly, while social liberals more greatly overestimate population proportions, those favouring bans on gay and lesbian relations overestimate population proportions relative to those believing that gay and lesbian relations should be legal. This is likely (hopefully) an artefact of very small proportions of the population believing that gay and lesbian relations (not marriage, but relations) should not be legal.
It seems to me to be largely ignorance and fear.  Just think back of how many stories in the last 10 years we’ve had about gay people accosting non-gay people in a random fashion where it turned into something that broke the law, required the police and ended up in the news?
None that I can think of.

Do you want:

  • ad-free access?
  • access to our very popular daily crossword?
  • access to Incite Politics magazine articles?

Silver subscriptions and above go in the draw to win a $500 prize to be drawn at the end of March.

Not yet one of our awesome subscribers? Click Here and join us.

As much at home writing editorials as being the subject of them, Cam has won awards, including the Canon Media Award for his work on the Len Brown/Bevan Chuang story.  And when he’s not creating the news, he tends to be in it, with protagonists using the courts, media and social media to deliver financial as well as death threats.

They say that news is something that someone, somewhere, wants kept quiet.   Cam Slater doesn’t do quiet, and as a result he is a polarising, controversial but highly effective journalist that takes no prisoners.

He is fearless in his pursuit of a story.

Love him or loathe him.  But you can’t ignore him.