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Republicans And Democrats Largely Oppose Transgender Sports Legislation, Poll Shows

Sydney Duncan holds a sign during a rally at the Alabama State House to draw attention to legislation introduced in Alabama that's aimed at restricting transgender people's access to medical care.
Julie Bennett
Getty Images
Sydney Duncan holds a sign during a rally at the Alabama State House to draw attention to legislation introduced in Alabama that's aimed at restricting transgender people's access to medical care.

In at least 30 states nationwide, lawmakers have introduced bills aiming to keep transgender girls and women from participating on girls' and women's sports teams. These type of restrictions have become a major culture war battle, with Republican lawmakers being the loudest proponents of such bills, while Democrats often oppose them.

But a new NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist poll finds that Republican voters aren't that enthusiastic about those proposed laws, even while they do have reservations about transgender sports participation.

Just 29% of Republicans said they "support a bill that prohibits transgender student athletes from joining sports teams that match their gender identity." Moreover, there was no significant party divide: Similar shares of Republicans, Democrats and independents also said they oppose the bills.

Altogether, 28% of adults said they support bills restricting transgender athletes' participation, compared with 67% who oppose such bills.

The poll of 1,266 adults was conducted April 7 through 13 and has a margin of error of 3.3 percentage points for the full sample, meaning the results could be about 3 points higher or 3 points lower. The margin of error is larger when individual partisan groups are measured separately.

These data come as the push to pass those bills continues nationwide. Mississippi, Arkansas and Tennessee have passed bills restricting transgender girls' sports participation. West Virginia's legislature also just passed its own bill, and Republican Gov. Jim Justice has said he will sign it.

However, there's an important nuance to these figures. While there is no apparent partisan divide on legislating the issue, there is a pronounced partisan divide on transgender sports participation itself.

Three-quarters of Democrats said that transgender students should "be allowed to play on sports teams that match their gender identity" in high school, and similar shares of Democrats felt the same way about students in college, middle school and grade school.

Republicans were a mirror image of this; 81% of them said transgender high school students should not be allowed to play on teams that match their gender identity. Again, roughly similar shares said the same of college, middle school and grade school athletes.

Independents were roughly evenly split on those questions, across student athletes' grade levels.

Altogether, Americans are evenly split on this question: 47% say transgender students should be allowed to play on sports teams that match their gender identity, compared with 48% who say those students should not be allowed.

This suggests that while many Republicans and some independents may feel strongly about keeping transgender girls off girls' teams, they have a much smaller appetite for states being involved in that issue.

"There was a reluctance on the part of many people to move in the direction of imposing a ban on gender rights that has been suggested in many states," said Lee Miringoff, director of the Marist College Institute for Public Opinion. "There clearly is a sense that a lot of people don't want to legislate this at the state level. They do not want to move in a direction of formally discriminating in these regards."

The poll asked about a range of LGBTQ-related issues. It also found that 63% of adults support the proposed Equality Act, which would add protections around sexual orientation and gender identity to existing civil rights laws. Democrats overwhelmingly support that bill (90%), along with 62% of independents. Thirty-two percent of Republicans said the same.

Political party isn't the only major dividing line when it comes to opinions on LGBTQ issues; age also seems to play a significant role. Fully 78% of millennials and people in Generation Z support the Equality Act; progressively smaller shares of Generation X (61%), baby boomers (54%) and people in the silent and greatest generations (46%) support it.

In addition, the poll found strong opposition to the possibility of criminalizing the provision of gender transition-related medical care to minors, as a proposed law in Alabama would. Sixty-five percent of adults oppose that type of bill, compared with 28% who support it.

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Danielle Kurtzleben is a political correspondent assigned to NPR's Washington Desk. She appears on NPR shows, writes for the web, and is a regular on The NPR Politics Podcast. She is covering the 2020 presidential election, with particular focuses on on economic policy and gender politics.