Jun 8, 2023 - Politics & Policy

Survey: Religion, race shape views on pronoun usage

Source: PRRI, Gender and Politics Survey, 2023
Source: PRRI, Gender and Politics Survey, 2023

Americans' support for the use of gender-neutral pronouns such as "they" instead of "he" or "she" varies widely depending on race, religion and generation, according to a new survey.

Why it matters: Neutral pronouns have been used for centuries but have gotten increasing public attention as LGBTQ+ rights — and attacks on them — have been a focus of debates in U.S. politics, schools and businesses. A 2021 study estimated 1.2 million U.S. adults identified as nonbinary.

  • White evangelicals and others of conservative faiths appear to be the most resistant to gender-neutral pronouns, according to the survey by the nonpartisan Public Religion Research Institute.

By the numbers: The survey found that more than one-third of Americans (36%) say they would feel comfortable if they learned that a friend uses gender-neutral pronouns.

  • About 43% say they would be uncomfortable.

White evangelical Protestants (20%) are less likely than nearly all other groups to say they would be comfortable with friends telling them that they use gender-neutral pronouns, the survey found.

  • Jewish Americans are the most likely to say they'd be comfortable learning that a friend uses gender-neutral pronouns (50%).
  • About a third of Hispanic Catholics and Black Protestants say they'd be comfortable.

State of play: The survey arrives at a time when transgender and nonbinary rights have been under assault by Republican-led state governments and mocked by conservatives on social media — including Elon Musk.

Zoom in: The survey also found that about one-third of Americans (34%) say it's never appropriate to discuss same-sex romantic relationships in public schools.

  • Republicans (55%) were more than three times as likely as Democrats (18%) to say this.
  • White evangelical Protestants are the only group in the survey in which a majority (62%) say same-sex romantic relationships are never appropriate to discuss in public schools.

What they're saying: "I think for Americans who come from more conservative theologies, there's great discomfort with using pronouns that don't necessarily match someone's perception of someone's physical appearance," PRRI CEO Melissa Deckman told Axios.

Younger people tend to be more accepting of gender-neutral pronouns, Deckman said, which helps explain why Hispanic Catholics appear less resistant than white Catholics: The Hispanic community is relatively young compared with the overall population.

Don't forget: An Axios-Ipsos Latino Poll in partnership with Noticias Telemundo last year found that Latinos say are particularly accepting of those in the LGBTQ community, and that 54% of respondents supported someone's right to choose their gender identity.

Methodology: The 2023 PRRI Gender and Politics Survey was conducted online between March 9-23. The poll is based on a representative sample of 5,046 adults (age 18 and older) living in all 50 states who are part of Ipsos' Knowledge Panel®.

  • The margin of sampling error is +/- 1.5 percentage points at the 95% confidence level, for results based on the entire sample.
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