In Polling, Context is Everything

by Palm Center | July 16, 2019

A new Pew Research Center poll of U.S. military veterans found that 46% support inclusive policy that would allow transgender people to serve in the military, in comparison to the 64% of U.S. adults overall who support equal opportunity. 

A few points of context to keep in mind if these numbers are cited as evidence that Americans with military experience are more likely to favor banning transgender people from service:

  1. This sample of veterans is by definition not a sample of persons currently serving in the military. The pollsters matched the veteran sample to the population demographics of veterans from past eras of service, not to the demographics of our current military, which is more diverse in race and gender.
  2. As a result, this survey, like all veteran surveys, is unlikely to measure the opinion of people who have actually served with transgender colleagues.
  3. The Pew poll also found that responses were strongly affected by political allegiance. Veterans who identify or lean Republican were more than five times as likely to support banning transgender people from military service in comparison to Democratic Party veterans (78%-14%). This gap is difficult to explain on the basis of military experience alone, which was shared by all respondents.
  4. Context is everything. 58% of veterans in this poll trust President Trump either “a great deal” or “a fair amount” to make the right decisions about use of nuclear weapons. 60% approved of the way the president is dealing with North Korea, and 54% with respect to Russia. It’s almost as if this poll was testing how far respondents would go in their support of anything connected to Trump, and the answer was “pretty far.” Again, the responses suggest that military expertise has little to do with the uniformity of support for Trump-connected actions.

A recent Gallup poll found 56% of veterans (and 71% of adults overall) support transgender service. The average level of support in all polls conducted in 2019 is 67%.