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Sorry, Senator DeMint: Most Americans Don’t Want to Ban Gays from the Classroom

Justin Phillips placed some questions on the YouGov Model Politics poll and reports the following:

Early this month, Senator Jim DeMint (R-South Carolina) angered gay rights organizations when he said that openly gay people (along with sexually active unmarried women) shouldn’t be teaching in the classroom. This comment was originally reported in the Spartanberg Herald-Journal and subsequently covered by a variety of national media outlets including CBS News.

The Senator justified his comments by suggesting that his beliefs are shared by many Americans. DeMint told the Herald Journal “[When I said those things] no one came to my defense. But everyone would come to me and whisper that I shouldn’t back down. They don’t want government purging their rights and their freedom to religion.”

So is the Senator correct? Do Americans want openly gay men and women out of the classroom? . . .

Most Americans do not share Senator DeMint’s views. Our survey shows that a large majority of respondents—66%—support the inclusion of sexual orientation in employment nondiscrimination laws (only 20% are opposed). . . .

Even when we ask a question that more specifically measures Senator DeMint’s claim, we find that most Americans hold the pro-gay position. In our survey, 58% of respondents think that openly gay and lesbian individuals should be allowed to work as elementary school teachers, with only 26% opposed. Responses are not particularly sensitive to question wording . . . even a majority of southern respondents (52%) aren’t bothered by openly gay teachers.

So who is Senator DeMint speaking with in his informal survey of voter attitudes toward gays and lesbian? It appears to be Republicans. Among this group, a narrow plurality of respondents (45% to 38%) are opposed to allowing openly gay teachers in the classroom.

7 Comments

  1. David C. says:

    66% support the inclusion of sexual orientation in employment nondiscrimination laws but only 58% of respondents think that openly gay and lesbian individuals should be allowed to work as elementary school teachers?

    I guess these non-discrimination laws aren't supposed to be very broad…

  2. Andrew Gelman says:

    David:

    Indeed. We discussed this awhile ago and attribute these differences to framing.

    Our hypothesis goes as follows: when survey respondents are asked about antidiscrimination laws, they overwhelimingly consider the widely-held American view that discrimination is a bad thing, so there should be a law against it. They are unlikely to put themselves in the position of an employer who might want to discriminate, and so are not likely to oppose an anti-discrimination law. But when asked about gay teachers, many respondents identify with parents and students, and might feel that having a gay teacher is a risk they’d rather not take.

  3. Basil says:

    I'd like to know more about how yougov.com randomly sampled the population. I am from Alabama and think that percentage would be much higher. Ofcourse the senator may not have been lieing when he mentioned all the people whispering in his ear, because we are very similar to those we surround ourselves with. My last point is to the apparent statistical common sense of Southerners. There are many studies that support the fact that homosexual persons are at high risk for AIDS, have high rates of domestic abuse, have high rates of substance abuse, have high rates of promiscuity, have high rates of mental health problems, and high rates of death and disease. All of these factors, I would hope, would discourage any caring parent from leaving their children supervised by a homosexual.
    Lastly, my own opinion is that none of this should ever be in question. The teacher, the politician, or the employeer should not ask or tell their sexual preference. Homosexual and Hetereosexual preference should only be shared with those we are intimate with.

  4. Andrew Gelman says:

    Basil:

    You write, "Homosexual and heterosexual preference should only be shared with those we are intimate with." Whether or not this is a good idea, I think it's completely unrealistic in a world in which people hang photographs of their spouses and children in their offices, bring their spouses and children to office Halloween parties, and so forth.

  5. Roger says:

    I think that polls are likely to appear inconsistent on this issue. If you ask people whether employers should be able to fire employees for no reason at all, and I would expect most people to say no. And yet that is the law in the USA, and there is not much argument about it.

  6. Andrew Gelman says:

    Roger:

    I agree, people are way inconsistent on these sorts of issues. Most people don't seem so mind having a law against something, as long as they don't see the law as applying to them in some way.

  7. Basil says:

    Andrew, That was a great statement and completely true. The new health care policy exempts legislators from purchasing or paying the fine for not purchasing the policy. Law makers shouldn't have the right to make laws that they can be excluded from.