Proposals floated by SNP ministers to allow people to officially change their gender from the age of 16 are supported by just a third of adults in Scotland, a new poll has revealed.

As the Scottish government prepares to publish a draft bill on its legislative plans on gender recognition, the Panelbase survey of 1,009 people conducted for The Sunday Times finds that 32% support the idea of reducing the age limit from 18 to 16 while 50% oppose it and 18% don’t know.

However, the poll also finds that more than not agree (38%-34%) with Scottish government plans to reduce the time that trans men and trans women must have lived in their acquired gender before getting a gender recognition certificate (GRC). Under a simplified procedure they would be required to wait no more than six months rather than two years at present and no longer require a medical diagnosis.

Transgender rights has proved one of the most divisive issues within the SNP as well as being the subject of intense debate outside the party.

Earlier this month leading nationalist Joanna Cherry, standing for election in Edinburgh South West, said she would not be bullied for her belief that “male-bodied individuals” should not have women’s rights — a view that led to her being branded as transphobic.

The Scottish government intends to publish a draft gender recognition bill by the end of the year and has promised a full consultation on its proposals.

James Morton, manager of the Scottish Trans Alliance, said: “There are considerable misunderstandings about legal gender recognition, with many people incorrectly believing it is irreversible or that it relates to surgery, and these misunderstandings negatively impact on public opinion. We look forward to fair and factual parliamentary scrutiny of the forthcoming draft bill.”

Lucy Hunter Blackburn of the MurrayBlackburn Mackenzie policy analysis collective, said: “For people to give informed responses, the consultation will need to be clear about the legal implications of acquiring a GRC, and the interaction of the gender recognition act with protections in law for single sex- spaces, roles and activities.

“The most controversial part of the proposed change is removing the need for a medical diagnosis of gender dysphoria. The rationale for this will need to be explained with particular care.”

A Scottish government spokeswoman said there had been growing recognition that the process of securing gender recognition is currently “overly complex and medicalised and can be deeply traumatic and stressful for those going through it”.