When Washington Wizards center Jason Collins made history last month as the first active male athlete in a major U.S. sport to come out of the closet as gay, it was met by an overwhelmingly positive response from prominent athletes, politicians and celebrities. It turns out that stance is shared by a vast majority of the country at large, according to results of a new Washington Post-ABC News poll.
According to the poll, 68 percent of Americans support Collins’ decision to come out, while only 23 percent are opposed, and the percentage of positive responses is higher among younger and better-educated respondents.
The only part of the public with lukewarm or negative reactions to Collins’ decision are those who identified themselves as “very conservative” politically, only 45 percent of whom support the decision (versus 47 percent who oppose it), and those who identified themselves as gay marriage opponents (41 percent in support, 50 percent opposed).
Collins, 34, announced he is gay in a first-person Sports Illustrated cover story that was posted to the magazine’s website on April 29. The 14-year NBA veteran finished the 2012-13 season as a member of the Wizards – to whom he was traded by the Boston Celtics in February – but is now a free agent.
In the hours immediately following Collins’ announcement, fellow athletes and other celebrities took to Twitter or issued statements in support of him, and President Obama called Collins personally.
“Not even in my wildest dreams could I have imagined all this – the response,” Collins told Post columnist Mike Wise in a telephone interview last week. “You’re always thinking, ‘I’m going to make this happen in my own words, on my own terms, and I’ll deal with the repercussions and consequences.’ And it turns out the country was really ready for something like this. It’s been remarkable.”
The results of the Post-ABC poll suggest Collins has widespread support for his decision from a cross-section of Americans. In addition to the overall numbers, Collins’ decision finds support among majorities of women (69 percent), men (67 percent), seniors (58 percent), non-college graduates (63 percent) and those who identified themselves politically as independents (73 percent) and Republicans (52 percent).
But the biggest support was among those who identified themselves as Democrats or college graduates, and those aged 30 or younger, with 81 percent of respondents in each group saying they support Collins’ decision. Gay marriage supporters are also overwhelmingly in support of Collins – 90 percent, versus 7 percent opposed.
The issue of homosexuality has historically shown a racial divide, with polls traditionally showing less support for gay marriage among African Americans than among whites. A March poll by the Pew Research Center found that whites, by a 58 percent to 36 percent margin, said homosexuality should be accepted rather than discouraged, while blacks were split by a more narrow 48 to 41 percent margin.
But in the new poll, 66 percent of African Americans and 70 percent of whites support Collins’ decision, with nearly half of each group supporting him “strongly.”
The Post-ABC poll was conducted May 1 to 5 among a random national sample of 1,008 adults. The results have a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 3.5 percentage points.
Clement is a pollster with Capital Insight, the independent polling group of Washington Post Media.