Poll: 58% say they have political views they are afraid to share

A fascinating new poll is out by the Cato Institute that gauges "Free Speech and Tolerance" in America. The libertarian organization polled 2300 Americans and found that fully 71% believe that political correctness has silenced important discussions about issues that need to be debated while 58% are afraid to share views seen as controversial.

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.

That so many Democrats feel the need to self censor shows just how far off the rails political correctness has taken us.

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. 

There are more surprises in surveys about campus attitudes toward free speech:

Two-thirds of Americans (66%) 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.” 

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; 57% of Republicans disagree.

The rest of the cross tabs are revealing of a great divide between those who apparently don't believe the First Amendment is serious about allowing speech we find offensive or don't agree with and those who interpret the amendment more broadly.

It's apparent to me that conservatives have become the de facto guardians of free speech in America. If it were up to the left, the First Amendment would be defined far more narrowly, restricting even mildly offensive speech. It's also clear that the way the left defines free speech intrudes on people's political beliefs. 

There is real danger that we are losing basic constitutional liberties that we took for granted for more than 200 years. It appears that we are going to have to fight to maintain those liberties by pushing back against political correctness and the wretched attitude of young people toward tolerating speech they disagree with.

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