Poll: 71% of Americans Say Political Correctness Has Silenced Discussions Society Needs to Have

Emily Ekins, Cato Institute, October 31, 2017

The Cato 2017 Free Speech and Tolerance Survey, a new national poll of 2,300 U.S. adults, finds that 71% Americans believe that political correctness has silenced important discussions our society needs to have. The consequences are personal—58% of Americans believe the political climate prevents them from sharing their own political beliefs.

Democrats are unique, however, in that a slim majority (53%) do not feel the need to self-censor. Conversely, strong majorities of Republicans (73%) and independents (58%) say they keep some political beliefs to themselves.

Full survey results and report found here.

It follows that a solid majority (59%) of Americans think people should be allowed to express unpopular opinions in public, even those deeply offensive to others. On the other hand, 40% think government should prevent hate speech. Despite this, the survey also found Americans willing to censor, regulate, or punish a wide variety of speech and expression they personally find offensive:

  • 51% of staunch liberals say it’s “morally acceptable” to punch Nazis.
  • 53% of Republicans favor stripping U.S. citizenship from people who burn the American flag.
  • 51% of Democrats support a law that requires Americans use transgender people’s preferred gender pronouns.
  • 65% of Republicans say NFL players should be fired if they refuse to stand for the anthem.
  • 58% of Democrats say employers should punish employees for offensive Facebook posts.
  • 47% of Republicans favor bans on building new mosques.

Americans also can’t agree what speech is hateful, offensive, or simply a political opinion:

  • 59% of liberals say it’s hate speech to say transgender people have a mental disorder; only 17% of conservatives agree.
  • 39% of conservatives believe it’s hate speech to say the police are racist; only 17% of liberals agree.
  • 80% of liberals say it’s hateful or offensive to say illegal immigrants should be deported; only 36% of conservatives agree.
  • 87% of liberals say it’s hateful or offensive to say women shouldn’t fight in military combat roles, while 47% of conservatives agree.
  • 90% of liberals say it’s hateful or offensive to say homosexuality is a sin, while 47% of conservatives agree.

Americans Oppose Hate Speech Bans, But Say Hate Speech is Morally Unacceptable

Although Americans oppose (59%) outright bans on public hate speech, that doesn’t mean they think hate speech is acceptable. An overwhelming majority (79%) say it’s “morally unacceptable” to say offensive things about racial or religious groups.

Black, Hispanic, and White Americans Disagree about How Free Speech Operates

African Americans and Hispanics are more likely than white Americans to believe:

  • Free speech does more to protect majority opinions, not minority viewpoints (59%, 49%, 34%).
  • Supporting someone’s right to say racist things is as bad as holding racist views yourself (65%, 61%, 34%).
  • People who don’t respect others don’t deserve the right of free speech (59%, 62%, 36%).
  • Hate speech is an act of violence (75%, 72%, 46%).
  • Our society can prohibit hate speech and still protect free speech (69%, 71%, 49%).
  • People usually have bad intentions when they express offensive opinions (70%, 75%, 52%).

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