Surveys show a shockingly high fraction think a quarter of the country is gay or lesbian, when the reality is that it's probably less than 2 percent.
One in ten. It's the name of the group that puts on the Reel Affirmations gay and lesbian film festival in Washington, D.C., each year. It's the percent popularized by the Kinsey Report as the size of the gay male population. And it's among the most common figures pointed to in popular culture as an estimate of how many people are gay or lesbian.
But what percentage of the population is actually gay or lesbian? With the debate over same-sex marriage again an emerging fault line in American political life, the answer comes as a surprise: A lower number than you might think -- and a much, much, much lower one than most Americans believe.
In surveys conducted in 2002 and 2011, pollsters at Gallup found that members of the American public massively overestimated how many people are gay or lesbian. In 2002, a quarter of those surveyed guessed upwards of a quarter of Americans were gay or lesbian (or "homosexual," the third option given). By 2011, that misperception had only grown, with more than a third of those surveyed now guessing that more than 25 percent of Americans are gay or lesbian. Women and young adults were most likely to provide high estimates, approximating that 30 percent of the population is gay. Overall, "U.S. adults, on average, estimate that 25 percent of Americans are gay or lesbian," Gallup found. Only 4 percent of all those surveyed in 2011 and about 8 percent of those surveyed in 2002 correctly guessed that fewer than 5 percent of Americans identify as gay or lesbian.