In a huge shift, most Californians now support transgender bathroom law

Transgender canvasser Nancy Williams speaks to a voter in Los Angeles.
Transgender canvasser Nancy Williams speaks to a voter in Los Angeles.
Jeffrey Fountain/LA LGBT Center

In only three years, the majority of Californians have gone from opposing a state law that allows transgender students to access any bathroom in a public school to supporting it, according to a new study out of USC.

The speed of that opinion shift is uncommon, some might say unprecedented.

"We were struck by how rapidly and how dramatically public opinion has changed on these issues," says Dan Schnur, one of the study's co-authors and the director of USC's Jesse M. Unruh Institute of Politics.

"Unlike economic issues or even foreign policy issues, when we poll on cultural and social matters, we find that people's minds tend to change fairly slowly and gradually. But along with the issue of marriage equality, these issues of transgender equality have shown a remarkably fast shift in public opinion."

When Schnur and his colleagues polled Californians in 2013, 43 percent were in favor of a measure that would have allowed greater bathroom access. 46 percent were against it. Now, 51 percent of state voters support such legislation and only 40 percent oppose it, an 11 percentage-point margin.

Social media has played a role in shifting opinions as has the increasing number of openly transgender people, both in the media and in day-to-day life. But Schnur believes the shift in opinion largely comes down to one factor: Age.

If you support more rights for transgender people, you can thank millennials. 46 percent of those aged 50 and older said they oppose the requirement while 61 percent of voters aged 18 to 49 in favor of it.

"[It] is much more likely that a young person would know someone who's transgender... And as we've seen on issues like immigration, when you know someone, you tend to be much more tolerant and much more supportive," Schnur says.

​Is the Golden State a bellwether of a shift in the national opinion? Schnur paraphrases Wallace Stegner to say, "California is America, only faster... It's very difficult to see a situation in which support on these issues does anything but accelerate."

Other interesting results from the survey suggest that opinions also differ according to education: 50 percent of those with a high school diploma or who didn’t finish high school oppose the law. But 58 percent of respondents who have attended college said they support it.

This USC/Dornsife Los Angeles Times Poll of 1,500 voters was conducted May 19-31. According to the study's authors, it includes a significant oversample of Latino voters and a robust cell phone sample. The study has a margin of error of +/- 2.8 percentage points.