April 12, 2019

Palm Center Corrects Misleading NPR Story on Trump Transgender Ban

Story Describes New Policy Incorrectly; Wrongly Calls Americans “Divided” on the Issue, Understating Transgender Support

SAN FRANCISCO, CA – An NPR story about the Trump transgender military ban which went into effect today described a key element of the policy incorrectly, and failed to use methodologically rigorous polling, resulting in understating the level of American and military support for transgender service, the Palm Center said today.

The story, “Americans Are Divided over Whether Transgender People Should be in the Military,” made the following errors:

NPR stated that “transgender people already serving will not be affected” by the new policy.

Why this is wrong: 100% of currently serving transgender troops are affected by the policy, which puts at risk all 14,700 transgender troops. Only about 7% of currently serving transgender troops are protected by a “grandfather” clause allowing them to serve openly, while the remaining 13,600 transgender troops are subject to discharge if they are found to need gender transition, and are denied the statutorily-required health care that the military provides to all other service members. Further, the Pentagon’s policy stigmatizes 100% of transgender troops, including those who are grandfathered, by classifying the need to transition as a “deficiency” and a “defect.” Finally, even the small fraction of grandfathered troops are not truly protected by the policy, as the Pentagon has threatened to revoke their exempt status if it creates legal problems in ongoing litigation.

NPR stated that “polls show Americans are divided” on the issue of whether transgender troops should be allowed to serve.

Why this is wrong: Polls consistently show strong majorities in favor of open transgender service. NPR cited a Reuters poll showing that nearly 60% of Americans support transgender service. In polling, 60% is considered a substantial majority, not a signal of a divided population. But even the 60% is an outlier on the low end. If NPR had averaged existing polls, as it should have done, it would have found an even higher percentage in support. Two recent polls, by Quinnipiac and Dalia Research, found that 70% of respondents favor allowing transgender Americans to serve in the military. Averaging the three polls yields a two-thirds majority of American support, a “supermajority” rare among policy issues in politics today.

NPR stated that a “poll of current and former military members shows more than 60% are opposed” to transgender military service, and “only 39 percent of respondents” were in favor.

Why this is misleading: What NPR cited was a voluntary survey of military newspaper subscribers, with a small minority of active-duty respondents, which no reputable news organization should rely on for polling data on the military community. Of 1031 respondents, 922, were retired members, while only 109 were active-duty. The average age of all respondents was 62, so the poll failed to capture the far more tolerant sentiment of today’s younger military population. Further, the poll heavily underrepresented women, who made up just 7% of respondents but are 16% of active-duty enlisted personnel and 18% of the officer corps; significantly, this underweighted population showed majority support for transgender service. According to a large survey of the military community conducted by the Military Family Advisory Network, which does not suffer from the same sampling problems as the one NPR cited, military support is strongly in favor of transgender service, with 62% supporting it and only 31% opposing it.