Whether it is reaction to the highly publicized campaign for gay rights or the spread of alternative lifestyles, the great majority of Americans are convinced that homosexuality is more prevalent today than 25 years ago.

Two of every three people, 66 per cent, interviewed in the latest Gallup Poll, believe homosexuality is more widespread than a quarter century ago. Another 24 per cent believe it is no more so and 10 per cent do not venture an opinion.

At the same time, a majority of the public (56 per cent) believes homosexuality to be a product of upbinging and social environement rather than something a person is born with a view only 12 per cent hold. Another 14 per cent say both factors are involved.

The view that homosexuality is now more widespread than before prevails among all major population groups. Some differences exist, however, particularly from region to region and by educational background.

In the South, seven people in 10 (71 per cent) see an increase while 67 per cent of Midwesterners express this view. In the West and Northeast, the figures are 64 and 61 per cent, respectively.

Among those whose formal education ended at the grade school level, 76 per cent note a higher incidence of homosexuality, while among with high school and college backgrounds the comparable figures are 69 and 54 per cent, respectively.

Although there is no certain information as to the percentage of gays in the population, popular estimates place the figure at less than 10 per cent.

One person in five nationwide (20 per cent) estimates that less than 10 per cent of males are gay, while 19 per cent believe that 10 to 19 per cent of men are in this category. Twenty-seven per cent say the figure for men is 20 per cent or more while 34 per cent do not give an estimate.

Similarly, about one in five nationwide (22 per cent) also estimate the proportion of female gays as less than one in 10. Another 17 per cent say the figure falls between 10 and 19 per cent, and 26 per cent say it is 20 per cent or more. In the case of women, 35 per cent do not offer an estimate.