The Topline: Mass Voters Lean Towards Upholding Transgender Public Accommodations Bill

Voters in Massachusetts this November will be asked whether to uphold or repeal a 2016 law prohibiting discrimination based on gender identity in public places. The law allows transgender  people to use bathrooms and lockers rooms consistent with their gender identity, rather than their sex at birth.

The idea of repealing the law does not fare well in terms of public support. A new WBUR poll out this week shows only 38 percent support repeal, while 52 percent support keeping it in place. An earlier Suffolk University/Boston Globe survey, taken before the law went into effect, showed a similar 53 percent of voters supported the proposal at the time.

Massachusetts is one of 19 states (plus the District of Columbia) that explicitly prohibit discrimination based on gender identity. But so-called "bathroom bills" that grant or deny access for transgender individuals to public facilities have brought rolling public debate in recent years. In 2016, North Carolina became the only state to pass a law specifying that people must use facilities associated with their sex at birth, rather than their preferred gender identity. The law was eventually replaced by a compromise version after economic impacts begin to pile up. Among them, the NBA moved its All-Star game from Charlotte and the NCAA threatened to move its college basketball tournament out of the state.

Still, despite Massachusetts' strong record on transgender rights, public opinion on the issue reflects the national divide. A 2016 survey from Pew Research Center shows 51 percent of U.S. adults believe transgender individuals should be allowed to use public restrooms that correspond with their current gender identity, while 46 percent say transgender people should use the bathroom that corresponds with their sex at birth. Gallup in 2017 found a near even split; 48 percent thought restroom use should conform to birth gender, while 45 percent favored gender identity.

Pew also found that knowing someone who is transgender makes a difference on this question; 60 percent of those who know a transgender person think they should be able to use the restroom conforming to their identity, compared to 47 percent among those who do not know someone who is  transgender. This "proximity effect" is reminiscent of the debate over same sex marriage. Before the Supreme Court legalized same sex marriage nationwide, those who were close with a gay or lesbian person were more likely to support their right to marry.

But the proximity effect is likely to be less potent than it was in the public debate over same sex marriage. As recently as 2017, just 37 percent of Americans said they know someone who is transgender – far fewer than the 87 percent who said in a 2013 poll that they know someone who is gay or lesbian.

At the moment, the status of transgender rights depends on a patchwork of laws from states like Massachusetts. Congress has not passed any law explicitly prohibiting discrimination based on gender identity, the Supreme Court has yet to rule on a relevant case, and the Trump administration has reversed previous guidance protecting transgender individuals in schools and the military. Opponents of transgender accommodation hope that repealing the law in deep blue Massachusetts could start to unravel protections elsewhere. This is a new concept for voters, and many voters have yet to make up their minds. But the new polling suggests a minority of the state’s voters are ready to pull that thread.

MPG ICYMI

The latest WBUR poll released yesterday and cited above also asked about the two tax related ballot questions that could face voters in November. As it stands now, sizable majorities favor both rolling back the state sales tax and imposing a new income surtax on incomes over $1 million. Those numbers are little changed from our November 2017 WBUR poll. Also little changed are the races for governor and the Senate, where both incumbents look poised to win easily over little-known challengers.

We talked “Masses of MassDems” on this week’s episode of The Horse Race, with Chair of the Massachusetts Democratic Party Gus Bickford previewing this weekend’s nominating convention. Then, The Springfield Republican’s Shira Schoenberg updated us on race to replace former State Senator Stan Rosenberg, and Steve and Lauren explored sanctuary policies and their electoral effects.

On last week’s episode, we dug into the two-who-would-be-governor - Democrats Jay Gonzalez and Bob Massie - with State House News reporter Matt Murphy and CommonWealth Magazine’s Michael Jonas. Then WAMC Radio’s Josh Landes gave us the low down on the race for Berkshire County DA.

FiveThirtyEight has updated its pollster ratings for the first time since 2016, and MPG has received an A- (of which we’re a little salty tbh - we’re a group of overachievers here). Along with its update, FiveThirtyEight looks at how, despite the 2016 blowback, elections polling hasn’t really gotten less accurate.

And this week we welcome the newest member of the MPG team, Research Director Maeve Duggan. Maeve joins us after five years at the Pew Research Center and a stint directing research for Hill Holliday in Boston. We’re excited to welcome her to the team! In fact, Maeve researched and wrote today’s lede.

THE CROSSTABS

FiveThirtyEight puts President Trump’s approval ratings at 42 percent, disapproval at 53 percent.

They also track the generic congressional ballot, and put Democrats ahead of Republicans by 6 points.

A survey from the Pew Research Center finds that majorities in urban and rural places say drug addiction is a problem.

The same survey found two-thirds of people living in both urban and rural communities say people living in other types of communities don’t understand the types of problems they face.

A YouGov poll found that while 37 percent approve of the Supreme Court decision to end the federal ban on states legalizing sports gambling, a plurality are not sure how they feel. When asked how much they had heard about the decision, 45 percent said they had heard nothing at all.

Pew finds 7 in 10 Americans support direct talks between the U.S. and North Korea over the nuclear program, but only 38 percent think North Korean leaders are serious about negotiations.

A Washington Post-ABC News poll found 61 percent think President Trump should not threaten North Korea with military action.

The latest Morning Consult/POLITICO poll find a majority think Donald Trump’s tweets are harming his presidency and America’s standing in the world.

A new HuffPost/YouGov poll finds nearly half of Republicans believe the claim that millions of people voted illegally in the last presidential election. A New Hampshire review found no evidence of even modest fraud of the kind alleged by President Trump and his associates.

An earlier Morning Consult poll found that support for Net Neutrality stands at 62 percent among Democrats, up from 48 percent in December.

Gallup finds that 61 percent of Americans think the current rise in gas prices is temporary; 41 percent say they will be driving less because of the prices, mostly among lower income families.

----------------------------------Nerd Alert---------------------------------------

Is it Yanny or Laurel? One space or two after a period? Is a hot dog a sandwich? Finally, our friends at HuffPost have used polling to settle “five of the internet’s dumbest controversies.” We here are relieved by the consensus that reflects official MPG style that “gif” is pronounced with a hard G. Perhaps there’s hope for the Republic after all.

And what you hear in that confounding internet video has to do with age. There’s, um, science involved, from what we understand, but not our kind of science so you’re on your own, nerds.

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