What Do Americans Think About Political Correctness? The Answer Will Shock You

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Cato 2017 Free Speech and Tolerance Survey

Two-Thirds Say Colleges Aren’t Doing Enough to Teach the Value of Free Speech

Two-thirds of Americans (66 percent) 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 percent say colleges should expose students to “all types of viewpoints even if they are offensive or biased against certain groups.” About a third (34 percent) say colleges should “prohibit offensive speech that is biased against certain groups.”

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Cato 2017 Free Speech and Tolerance Survey

But Americans are conflicted. Despite their desire for viewpoint diversity, a slim majority (53 percent) 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 percent among Democrats; 57 percent of Republicans disagree.

76 percent Say Students Shutting Down Offensive Speakers Reveals “Broader Pattern” of How Students Cope

More than three-fourths (76 percent) of Americans say that recent campus protests and cancellations of controversial speakers are part of a “broader pattern” of how college students deal with offensive ideas. About a quarter (22 percent) think these protests and shutdowns are simply isolated incidents.

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 percent)

  • A speaker who says Muslims shouldn’t be allowed to come to the U.S. (50 percent)

  • A speaker who says that transgender people have a mental disorder (50 percent)

  • A speaker who publicly criticizes and disrespects the police (49 percent)

  • A speaker who says all Christians are backwards and brainwashed (49 percent)

  • A speaker who says the average IQ of whites and Asians is higher than African Americans and Hispanics (48 percent)

  • A speaker who says the police are justified in stopping African Americans at higher rates than other groups (48 percent)

  • A speaker who says all illegal immigrants should be deported (41 percent)

  • A speaker who says men on average are better at math than women (40 percent)

Nevertheless, few endorse shutting down speakers by shouting loudly (4 percent) or forcing the speaker off the stage (3 percent). Current college and graduate students aren’t much different; only about 7 percent support forcibly shutting down offensive speakers.

Most popular: Donald Trump Jr. May Not Have A Grasp of Basic Math, According to This Tweet

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Cato 2017 Free Speech and Tolerance Survey

65 percent Say Colleges Should Discipline Students Who Shut Down Invited Campus Speakers

Two-thirds (65 percent) say colleges need to discipline students who disrupt invited speakers and prevent them from speaking. However, the public is divided about how: 46 percent want to give students a warning, 31 percent want the incident noted on the student’s academic record, 22 percent want them to pay a fine, 20 percent want to suspend them, 19 percent favor arresting the students, 13 percent want to fully expel the students. Three-fourths (75 percent) of Republicans support some form of punishment for these students, compared to 42 percent of Democrats.

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Cato 2017 Free Speech and Tolerance Survey

People of Color Don’t Find Most Microaggressions Offensive

The survey finds that many microaggressions colleges and universities advise faculty and students to avoid aren’t considered offensive by most people of color. The percentage of African Americans and Latinos who say these microaggressions are not offensive are as follows:

  • Telling a recent immigrant: “You speak good English” Black: 67 percent Latino: 77 percent

  • Telling a racial minority: “You are so articulate” Black: 56 percent Latino: 63 percent

  • Saying “I don’t notice people’s race” Black: 71 percent Latino: 80 percent

  • Saying “America is a melting pot” Black: 77 percent Latino: 70 percent

  • Saying “Everyone can succeed in this society if they work hard enough.” Black: 77 percent Latino: 89 percent

  • Saying “America is the land of opportunity” Black: 93 percent Latino: 89 percent

The one microaggression that African Americans (68 percent) agree is offensive is telling a racial minority “you are a credit to your race.”

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Cato 2017 Free Speech and Tolerance Survey

Americans Don’t Think Colleges Need to Advise Students on Halloween Costumes

Nearly two-thirds (65 percent) say colleges shouldn’t advise students about offensive Halloween costumes and should instead let students work it out on their own. A third (33 percent) think it is the responsibility of the university to remind students not to wear costumes that stereotype racial or ethnic groups at off-campus parties.

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Cato 2017 Free Speech and Tolerance Survey

20 percent of Current Students Say College Faculty Has Balanced Mix of Political Views

Only 20 percent of current college and graduate students believe their college or university faculty has a balanced mix of political views. A plurality (39 percent) say most college and university professors are liberal, 27 percent believe most are politically moderate, and 12 percent believe most are conservative.

Democratic and Republican students see their college campuses differently. A majority (59 percent) of Republican college students believe that most faculty members are liberal. In contrast, only 35 percent of Democratic college students agree most professors are liberal.

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Cato 2017 Free Speech and Tolerance Survey

What Beliefs Should Get People Fired?

Americans tend to oppose firing people for their beliefs. Nevertheless, Democrats are more likely than Republicans to say a business executive should be fired if she or he believes transgender people have a mental disorder (44 percent vs 14 percent), that homosexuality is a sin (32 percent vs 10 percent), and that psychological differences help explain why there are more male than female engineers (34 percent vs. 14 percent).

Conversely, Republicans are more likely than Democrats to say a business executive should be fired if they burned the American flag at a weekend political protest (54 percent vs. 38 percent).

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Cato 2017 Free Speech and Tolerance Survey

Republicans Say Journalists Are an Enemy of the American People

A majority (63 percent) of Republicans agree with President Trump that journalists today are an “enemy of the American people.” Conversely, most Americans (64 percent), as well as 89 percent of Democrats and 61 percent of independents, do not view journalists as the enemy.

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Cato 2017 Free Speech and Tolerance Survey

These results aren’t surprising given that most Americans believe many major news outlets have a liberal bias, including The New York Times (52 percent), CNN (50 percent), and MSNBC (59 percent).  Fox is the one news station in which a majority (56 percent) believe it has a conservative bias.

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Cato 2017 Free Speech and Tolerance Survey

Democrats, however, believe most major news organizations are balanced in their reporting including The New York Times (55 percent), CNN (55 percent), and CBS (72 percent). A plurality (44 percent) also believe the Wall Street Journal is balanced. The two exceptions are that a plurality (47 percent) believe MSNBC has a liberal tilt and a strong majority (71 percent) 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 percent), CNN (81 percent), CBS (73 percent), and MSNBC (80 percent). A plurality also feel the Wall Street Journal (48 percent) has a liberal bias. One exception is that a plurality (44 percent) believe Fox News has a conservative bias, while 41 percent believe it provides unbiased reporting.

Despite perceptions of bias, only 29 percent of the public want the government to prevent media outlets from publishing a story that government officials say is biased or inaccurate. Instead, a strong majority (70 percent) say government should not have the power to stop such news stories.

Americans Say Wedding Businesses Should Be Required to Serve LGBT People, Not Weddings

The public distinguishes between a business serving people and servicing weddings:

  • A plurality (50 percent) of Americans say that businesses should be required to “provide services to gay and lesbian people,” even if doing so violates the business owners’ religious beliefs.

  • But, 68 percent 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.

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Cato 2017 Free Speech and Tolerance Survey

Few support punishing wedding businesses who refuse service to same-sex weddings. Two-thirds (66 percent) say nothing should happen to a bakery which refuses to bake a cake for a same-sex wedding.

A fifth (20 percent) would boycott the bakery, another 22 percent think government should sanction the bakery in some way, such as fining the bakery (12 percent), requiring an apology (10 percent), issuing a warning (8 percent), taking away their business license (6 percent), or sending the baker to jail (1 percent).

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Cato 2017 Free Speech and Tolerance Survey

Clinton Voters Can’t Be Friends with Trump Voters

Nearly two-thirds (61 percent) of Hillary Clinton’s voters agree that it’s “hard” to be friends with Donald Trump’s voters. However, only 34 percent of Trump’s voters feel the same way about Clinton’s. Instead, nearly two-thirds (64 percent) of Trump voters don’t think it’s hard to be friends with Clinton voters.

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Cato 2017 Free Speech and Tolerance Survey

Emily Ekins is a research fellow and director of polling at the Cato Institute. She is the author of Policing in America: Understanding Public Attitudes Toward the Police, The Libertarian Roots of the Tea Party and Public Attitudes toward Federalism: The Public’s Preference for a Renewed Federalism.

The Cato Institute 2017 Free Speech and Tolerance Survey was designed and conducted by the Cato Institute in collaboration with YouGov. YouGov collected responses online August 15-23, 2017 from a national sample of 2,300 Americans 18 years of age and older. The margin of error for the survey is +/- 3.00 percentage points at the 95 percent level of confidence.

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