Red State Voters Support Anti-Trans Laws. Their Lawmakers Are Delivering.

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For a time in recent memory, it looked like Utah might be an outlier among red states. While other states moved to prohibit transgender students from competing in girls’ sports, a Utah state Senate committee refused to move forward with such a ban in 2021. Lawmakers in the Beehive State spent months working to find a compromise on legislation around transgender students’ participation in sports, hearing from advocates on all sides of the issue.

But then Republicans in the state legislature suddenly scrapped the compromise efforts and passed a full ban on trans students’ participation in girls’ sports. Gov. Spencer Cox, a Republican, vetoed the legislation, but the state legislature voted to override it. While that specific ban has since been overturned by a state judge, Utah has passed new laws this year — at least six, each signed by the governor — targeting transgender individuals, more than any other state this legislative session, according to a FiveThirtyEight analysis. They include laws that ban gender-affirming care for minors, make it harder to change a birth certificate and make it more difficult for transgender athletes to participate in school sports.

Utah is one of at least 14 states that have passed new laws this year aimed at placing restrictions on transgender individuals — typically trans kids, specifically — as well as their parents and health care providers, including sports bans, bans against gender-affirming care and laws requiring students to use the bathroom that corresponds to the gender they were assigned at birth. 

Trans issues have clearly taken center stage at many statehouses, but do voters support these bills? And does the GOP risk a backlash for pushing these laws through? 

Nationally, views of this sort of legislation are mixed. Polls generally show the public is slightly opposed to preventing minors from accessing transition-related health care, for example. A Marist/NPR/PBS NewsHour poll in March found that Americans oppose such legislation by 11 points (43 percent in favor, 54 percent opposed). A similar survey by Selzer & Co./Grinnell College in March found a comparable result, with voters opposed to legislation that would “ban transgender children from receiving gender-affirming medical care” by 12 points (41 percent in favor, 53 percent opposed).

But Americans appear to support some of the other types of anti-trans laws that have been passed in several states. A YouGov/Yahoo News poll in March found that Americans favored “banning transgender female athletes from playing on women’s and girls’ teams at public schools” by a margin of 21 points (52 percent in favor, 31 percent opposed), similar to results found in other surveys. A YouGov/Economist poll in April found that 60 percent of Americans supported “requiring K-12 schools to inform parents if their child requests to go by different pronouns while at school,” including majorities of Democrats (50 percent), Republicans (77 percent) and independents (56 percent).

However, voters in the states that have passed anti-trans legislation appear more supportive of these laws than Americans overall, suggesting that state legislators might not confront as much backlash for passing these laws as the national numbers would indicate.

Utah voters, for example, seem to be on the same page as their lawmakers. A January survey by Dan Jones & Associates for the Deseret News and Hinckley Institute of Politics found 54 percent of registered Utah voters in support of the new law blocking gender-affirming healthcare for transgender kids, with 41 percent opposed. A survey from February 2022 conducted by Scott Rasmussen/Deseret News/Hinckley Institute of Politics found Utahns opposed to transgender women playing on womens’ high school and college sports teams by 39 percentage points, though only 5 percent said that government officials “should determine which athletes may compete” (41 percent said school athletic associations should make those decisions, 18 percent said it should be medical experts, and 36 percent said it should be someone else or were unsure). 

And it’s not just Utah: Residents in other states that have passed laws restricting transgender kids’ access to health care, sports and other resources also seem to largely support the legislation. In 2021, Arkansas passed the first U.S. law banning gender-affirming care for transgender minors, a move that Arkansas voters supported by 15 points, according to a Hendrix College/Talk Business & Politics poll from May of that year. While that law, the SAFE Act, is currently paused due to ongoing litigation, Arkansas this year passed a new law that would make doctors who provide gender-affirming care vulnerable to malpractice suits. Meanwhile, in February, 65 percent of likely Arkansas voters opposed “the teaching of gender identity and sexual orientation topics in Arkansas’s public elementary schools,” while a bill, which has since become law, targeting education about sexual orientation and gender identity was working it’s way through the state legislature.

In polls of Georgia and Iowa, both of which passed restrictions on gender-affirming care for minors this year, voters express support for restricting such care, though by single-digit margins. A law limiting which bathrooms individuals can use in Iowa schools was supported by a margin of 24 percent in an April 2022 survey of Iowans by Morningside University. This trend continues in states that have proposed bills targeting gender-affirming healthcare for kids but have not yet passed them. In Texas and Ohio, for example, polls show support for restrictions on transition-related healthcare for minors. In all but one state-level poll we’ve seen since January 2021, the public supports restricting transgender girls’ ability to play on womens’ sports teams, in most cases by margins of 30 points or more.

Most voters are against trans girls in women’s sports

State-level polls asking if voters support or oppose allowing transgender athletes to play on sports teams that align with their gender identity

state pollster fielding oppose support net support
VA The Washington Post/George Mason University Schar School of Policy and Government March 2023 40% 52% -12
IA Morningside University April 2022 50 43 +7
NC SurveyUSA/WRAL-TV June 2022 50 36 +14
UT Dan Jones/Deseret News/Hinckley Institute of Politics April 2022 54 39 +15
NH University of Massachusetts Lowell Oct 2022 61 39 +22
GA SurveyUSA/WXIA-TV Sept/Oct 2022 61 22 +39
OH Baldwin Wallace University Sept/Oct 2022 64 25 +39
UT Scott Rasmussen/Deseret News/Hinckley Institute of Politics Feb 2021 61 22 +39
WI Marquette University Law School June 2022 62 22 +40
KS COR Services/Opportunity Solutions Project Nov 2022 65 20 +45
TN SSRS/Vanderbilt University April/May 2022 62 14 +48
TN SSRS/Vanderbilt University Nov 2022 72 24 +48
NV Rasmussen Reports Oct 2022 72 23 +49
SD South Dakota State University May 2022 66 17 +49

Source: polls

It’s not all bad news for supporters of transgender rights, though, in particular in some states that will be critical for the next presidential election. Michigan lawmakers passed a bill that added sexuality and gender identity as protected classes to the state civil rights act, which Michiganders approved of by 17 points, 51 percent to 34 percent, according to a December 2022 poll by Public Policy Polling/Progress Michigan. In both Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, voters say they do not want the legislature to pass laws that discriminate against or “restrict the rights” of transgender individuals. And a Data for Progress survey conducted in March found 64 percent of likely voters nationally saying that there was too much anti-trans legislation being passed at the state level, and that “politicians are playing political theater and using these bills as a wedge issue.” 

So while Republicans in red states aren’t likely to face backlash for the anti-trans legislation they’ve pursued this year, polling in swing states could be a warning sign for the GOP ahead of the 2024 election, especially as the contrast between state and national polling shows the U.S. is far from a consensus on trans issues. Moreover, as with most polling about polarizing issues, even seemingly trivial differences in question-wording — or the type of trans legislation being asked about — can elicit different responses. Even small changes in public opinion could have serious political and electoral consequences.

#politics

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