“Nearly three-fourths (71%) of Americans believe that political correctness has done more to silence important discussions our society needs to have”
Here at LI, we’ve covered the increasing, alarming, and widespread leftist intolerance for free speech in this country. The radical left has decided and worked diligently to spread the dangerous notion that any ideas they deem offensive or objectionable should not be expressed, and if they are, there is the growing sense that violence should be used to silence anyone speaking words with which they disagree.
What we haven’t seen as often is what everyone else feels about the far left’s increasingly fascistic approach to silencing any but their own speech. It turns out that Americans are generally pretty fed up with it, and that there is a growing sense that we cannot express our true thoughts or views.
This is not a victory for the radical left; indeed, it may prove to be the tipping point. Forcing anything underground is a bad idea, and it seems that those who thinks speech is speech and not “violence” (i.e. the majority of Americans) are increasingly unwilling to be silenced under threat of shaming or force.
The Cato Institute released a fascinating poll entitled “The State of Free Speech and Tolerance in America: Attitudes about Free Speech, Campus Speech, Religious Liberty, and Tolerance of Political Expression.”
The findings are surprising and often heartening.
Nearly three-fourths (71%) of Americans believe that political correctness has done more to silence important discussions our society needs to have. A little more than a quarter (28%) instead believe that political correctness has done more to help people avoid offending others.
The consequences are personal-58% of Americans believe the political climate today prevents them from saying things they believe. 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.
Most Americans (59%) think people should be allowed to express unpopular opinions in public, even those deeply offensive to other people. Forty percent (40%) think government should prevent hate speech in public. Nonetheless, an overwhelming majority (79%) agree that it is “morally unacceptable” to engage in hate speech against racial or religious groups. Thus, the public appears to distinguish between allowing offensive speech and endorsing it.
Cato did find, however, that there is a rather alarming trend on the right to push for bans or penalties on expressions of free speech with which they disagree.
[T]he survey also found Americans willing to censor, regulate, or punish a wide variety of speech and expression they personally find offensive:
- 51% of strong 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.
- 47% of Republicans favor bans on building new mosques.
- 58% of Democrats say employers should punish employees for offensive Facebook posts.
- 65% of Republicans say NFL players should be fired if they refuse to stand for the national anthem.
In one way, these findings may be the key to tempering the left’s war on the First Amendment.
If no one can agree what constitutes free and protected speech, then demanding that government control certain expressions but not others becomes all but impossible and likely to shift wildly depending on which political party is in power at any given time.
An overwhelming majority (82%) of Americans agree that it would be difficult to ban hate speech because people can’t agree what speech is hateful and offensive. Indeed, when presented with specific statements and ideas, Americans can’t agree on 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; 47% of conservatives agree.
- 90% of liberals say it’s hateful or offensive to say homosexuality is a sin; 47% of conservatives agree.
. . . . [B]black, Hispanic, and white Americans agree that free speech ensures the truth will ultimately prevail (68%, 70%, 66%). Majorities also agree that it would be difficult to ban hate speech since people can’t agree on what hate speech is (59%, 77%, 87%).
The problem of the abandonment of free speech principles on college campuses is something that we cover a great deal here at LI. Professor Jacobson’s recent experience at Vassar underscored for many of us just how pervasive and utterly unhinged the problem has become.
Americans do not share the opinion of these campus radicals who have moved from protests, including horrifically violent protests, of admittedly controversial rightwing figures to smearing anyone who is not a radical leftist with the same “white supremacist” brush. In fact, Cato found that Americans place the responsibility for the growing intolerance and violence on college campuses right where it belongs: with college administration and professors.
Two-thirds (66%) of Americans say colleges and universities aren’t doing enough to teach young Americans today about the value of free speech. When asked which is more important, 65% say colleges should “expose students to all types of viewpoints, even if they are offensive or biased against certain groups.” About a third (34%) say colleges should “prohibit offensive speech that is biased against certain groups.”
It does seem that leftists have made some headway in this area. Instead of seeing college as a place to go and learn about diverse philosophies, worldviews, and ideologies, Americans are conflicted on the role colleges should play in “protecting” students from “offensive speech.” The problem, of course, is that what is offensive to one person is not to another, so it’s not clear what this finding reveals.
But Americans are conflicted. Despite their desire for viewpoint diversity, a slim majority (53%) also agree that “colleges have an obligation to protect students from offensive speech and ideas that could create a difficult learning environment.” This share rises to 66% among Democrats, but 57% of Republicans disagree.
There is little agreement, however, about which speakers are so offensive that they should not be permitted to speak on college campuses.
However, when asked about specific speakers, about half of Americans with college experience think a wide variety should not be allowed to speak at their college:
- A speaker who says that all white people are racist (51%)
- A speaker who says Muslims shouldn’t be allowed to come to the U.S. (50%)
- A speaker who says that transgender people have a mental disorder (50%)
- A speaker who publicly criticizes and disrespects the police (49%)
- A speaker who says all Christians are backward and brainwashed (49%)
- A speaker who says the average IQ of whites and Asians is higher than African Americans and Hispanics (48%)
- A speaker who says the police are justified in stopping African Americans at higher rates than other groups (48%)
- A speaker who says all illegal immigrants should be deported (41%)
- A speaker who says men on average are better at math than women (40%)
Excluding a speaker who would disrespect police, Democrats are about 15 to 30 points more likely than Republicans to say each of these speakers should not be allowed to speak.
A major problem we face in correcting these problems is that today’s college students are significantly less-mature and shockingly less-sophisticated than their counterparts only a decade or two ago.
They receive mixed messages about adulthood: they are “children” who can be on their parents’ insurance until they are 26, but they should be able to obtain tax-payer funded abortions as minors without their parents’ knowledge or consent. They are precious snowflakes who should be protected from bad ideas, words that give them offense, and anything that makes them feel “unsafe,” but they should be empowered with the decision of what constitutes acceptable speech and to silence purveyors of speech they dislike with violence. They should be coloring, blowing bubbles, and making unicorns out of Play-Doh in “safe spaces,” but they are the moral and political voices to whose will we should all bend.
As a result, they not only have an inflated sense of their import, but their actions rarely incur disciplinary measures.
The majority of Americans, Cato finds, do support disciplining students who shut down speakers with whom they disagree. The divide occurs when considering which disciplinary measures should be taken.
Two-thirds (65%) say colleges need to discipline students who disrupt invited speakers and prevent them from speaking. However, the public is divided on how: 46% want to give students a warning, 31% want the incident noted on the student’s academic record, 22% want students to pay a fine, 20% want students suspended, 19% favor arresting students, and 13% want students fully expelled.
Democrats take a softer while Republicans take a harder approach to handling disruptive college protestors. Nearly two-thirds (64%) of Democrats say colleges should listen to and address the students’ concerns, compared to 36% of Republicans. Conversely, Republicans are two to six times as likely as Democrats to support some sort of punishment for the students, such as suspending or expelling them (47% vs. 15%), noting the incident on the students’ records (41% vs. 22%), or having police arrest the students (32% vs. 7%).
Surprisingly, both a majority of Democrats and a majority of Republicans say that speakers should be cancelled if there are threats of student violence.
Most people support the heckler’s veto. A majority (58%) say colleges should cancel controversial speakers if administrators believe the students will stage a violent protest otherwise. Democrats and Republicans again disagree: Democrats say universities should cancel the speaker (74%) and Republicans say they should not cancel the speaker (54%) if the students threaten violence.
One problem might be that the majority of Americans just don’t know what these college students are doing, what they are saying, or what the implications of both are.
A majority (66%) of Americans have heard of safe spaces, but half or less are familiar with other social justice terms and phrases popular on college campuses today, including: cultural appropriation (50%), trigger warnings (49%), “check your privilege” (48%), microaggressions (43%), and “mansplaining” (41%).
In contrast, strong majorities of current college students and graduate students are familiar with all of these words and phrases: safe spaces (86%), cultural appropriation (76%), trigger warnings (75%), “check your privilege” (77%), microaggressions (66%), and “mansplaining” (69%).
These things don’t (currently) have a place in the real world, so Americans just don’t know about them and won’t until this nonsense spreads beyond the college campus to the workplace and social interaction.
Along these lines, Americans do not think that colleges should be involved in the Halloween costume choices of college students (remember, these are young adults, 18-24, not toddlers).
Nearly two-thirds (65%) of the public say colleges shouldn’t advise students about offensive Halloween costumes and should instead let students work it out on their own. A third (33%) think it is the responsibility of the university to advise students not to wear costumes that stereotype racial or ethnic groups at off-campus parties.
Media bias has developed into an important and hot-button issue in the past decade or so. Cato found that most Americans think the media is biased, especially in terms of “liberal media bias,” but that more Democrats believe the media to be balanced.
Most Americans believe many major news outlets have a liberal bias, including the New York Times (52%), CNN (50%), and MSNBC (59%).1 Fox News, on the other hand, is perceived to have a conservative bias (56%). Americans are divided about whether CBS is balanced (42%) or has a liberal bias (40%). Local news stations are a rare trusted source. A majority (54%) say their local TV station provides balanced news coverage without bias.
Majorities of Democrats believe most major news organizations are balanced in their reporting, including CBS (72%), CNN (55%), the New York Times (55%), as well as their local news station (67%). A plurality (44%) also believe the Wall Street Journal is balanced. The two exceptions are that a plurality (47%) believe MSNBC has a liberal tilt and a strong majority (71%) say Fox has a conservative bias.
Republicans, on the other hand, see things differently. Overwhelming majorities believe liberal bias colors reporting at the New York Times (80%), CNN (81%), CBS (73%), and MSNBC (80%). A plurality also feel the Wall Street Journal (48%) has a liberal bias. One exception is that a plurality (44%) believe Fox News has a conservative bias, while 41% believe it provides unbiased reporting.
Americans are still, much to leftists’ chagrin, capable of nuanced thinking. For example, when it comes to bakers being forced to bake wedding cakes for gay weddings, the majority agree that this is unacceptable.
A little-reported or -acknowledged fact of the various wedding cake cases that came up during Obama’s administration was that the bakers under fire had been serving their gay customers for years and intended to keep doing so. They did not refuse provide baked goods to gays, they just didn’t want to take part in a ceremony they believed to be a religious sacrament and as such contrary to their religious beliefs.
The public distinguishes between a business serving people versus weddings:
- A plurality (50%) of Americans say that businesses should be required to “provide services to gay and lesbian people,” even if doing so violates the business owner’s religious beliefs.
- But, 68% say a baker should not be required to provide a special-order wedding cake for a same-sex wedding if doing so violates their religious convictions.
Few support punishing businesses who refuse service to same-sex weddings. Two-thirds (66%) say nothing should happen to a bakery who refuses to bake a cake for a same-sex wedding. A fifth (20%) would boycott the bakery. Another 22% think government should sanction the bakery in some way, such as by fining the bakery (12%), requiring an apology (10%), issuing a warning (8%), taking away their business license (6%), or sending the baker to jail (1%).
Ultimately, the majority of Americans still prefer social censure for hate speech over government banning hate speech.
Although most Americans say government should not prevent people from engaging in public hate speech, most think hate speech is morally unacceptable. Nearly 8 in 10 (79%) say that it is “morally unacceptable” to “say things that might be offensive to racial or religious groups.”
This indicates that Americans make a distinction between allowing speech and endorsing that speech. Most think that speech that is offensive or insulting toward minority groups should be legally permitted, but that it is still wrong.
There’s a reason members of the KKK and of communist groups are on the fringe: most Americans reject their ideas and do not permit them or their purveyors in our presence. This, ultimately, is one of the core principles of the American experiment: you’re free to say what you wish to say, but we are neither obliged to agree with it nor to welcome you into civil society.
That 79% of Americans still hold this as a foundational belief is heartening.DONATE
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