Reporting on a Washington Post/KFF poll that ran on the Post’s front page on Monday morning promised “political jet fuel for Republicans in state legislatures and Congress who are pushing measures restricting curriculum, sports participation and medical care,” a self-fulfilling prophecy enabled by the Post’s own oversimplified, hyperbolic framing.
The first question reported in the story asked whether someone’s gender can differ from their sex assigned at birth, a theoretical topic far removed from the actual GOP policies concerning trans people, which have included bans on public bathroom access, exclusions from athletic competition, and prohibitions on gender-affirming care for adults.
Summarizing the poll, the authors wrote that “certainly for now, the new Post-KFF poll finds, Republican lawmakers have the wind at their backs on much of their anti-transgender legislative agenda.”
But while the story was new, the poll was conducted in November and December 2022, over six months ago and well before this year’s legislative onslaught of over 450 bills targeting LGBTQ people. Restricting rights for transgender people tends to be a low-salience issue, falling far below other priorities, that has been rejected by voters time and time again — including in the November 2022 midterms and the December 2022 Georgia Senate runoff. Even a recent Fox News poll conceded that voters regard “attacks on families with transgender children” as more of a problem than trans athletes.
Indeed, in the only question concerning laws discriminating against trans people, the Washington Post/KFF poll found overwhelming majorities support protections for trans people in housing (74%), employment (73%), and K-12 schools (69%). However, these were not the conclusions that the Post chose to highlight in bizarrely claiming that “most Americans support anti-trans policies favored by GOP.”
The misleading framing of the Post’s story lent itself to coverage by Fox News, which used it to attack former college trans athlete Lia Thomas — who last competed 14 months ago and whose record in the 1,650-yard freestyle has since been broken by a cisgender swimmer — and to claim that Republicans are fighting for women’s sex-based rights instead of working to criminalize abortion. The poll was subsequently used by Fox News to defend a Texas bill that would criminalize gender-affirming care for minors and to argue that trans equality is being pushed by “marginal extremist individuals who are left-wing activists”
Fox News is adept at using corporate media’s questioning of the basic existence of trans people as a cudgel against Democratic politicians who refuse to stay silent.
While the inclusion of trans people in public life has become a matter of fierce debate in the last couple years, history shows the danger of framing like that adopted by the Post. As pointed out by The American Independent writer Oliver Willis, a 1961 Gallup poll found that what the Post would call “most Americans” believed that the sit-in protests against racial segregation would “hurt” the integration movement.
At a time when the position of much of the right is that “transgenderism must be eradicated from public life entirely,” The Washington Post’s poll analysis presenting attacks on trans people as politically popular is, in fact, adding “jet fuel” to the fire being stoked by the GOP.