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Surprise: Survey finds conservatives and liberals differ on free speech

Freedom of Speech message on US Consitution with court gavel -- First Amendment concept

By Bill Britt
Alabama Political Reporter

A recent survey from the libertarian think tank Cato Institute shows that a vast majority of Americans think that political correctness is suppressing conversations about critical issues facing our society.

The Cato 2017 Free Speech and Tolerance Survey, recently issued the results of a national poll of 2,300 U.S. adults, which found a great divide between Democrats and Republicans on what should be allowed as free speech.

The survey found 59 percent of Americans believe that individual should be allowed to voice unpopular opinions in public, even those deeply offensive to others. However, 40 percent government should prohibit hate speech. The polling data found that Americans are willing, “to censor, regulate, or punish a wide variety of speech and expression they personally find offensive.”

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

While Cato found that liberals were more willing than conservatives to label speech offensive, there is little agreement on what even constitutes offensive speech much less what should be prohibited.

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

The Poll shows that a majority of citizens (59 percent) would ban hate speech, An overwhelming majority (79 percent) believe it “morally unacceptable” to say disparaging remarks about racial or religious groups.

Liberal and conservative also disagree on what types of speech should result in an individual being fired from their job.

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Overall Americans believe people shouldn’t lose their job because of their personal their beliefs; there is a disagreement between Republicans and Democrats on what is a fireable offense.

44 percent of Democrats believe a business executive should be fired if she or he considers transgender people to have a mental disorder. Whereas only 14 percent of Republicans agree.

32 percent of Democrats believe that business executive who believes homosexuality is a sin should be fired as opposed to 10 of Republicans.

54 percent of Republicans think a business executive should be fired if they burned the American flag at a weekend political protest and only 38 Democrats agree.

The Cato 2017 Free Speech and Tolerance Survey, also looks at other issues on which Democrats and Republicans disagree including the media, colleges and even wedding cakes.


Bill Britt is editor-in-chief at the Alabama Political Reporter and host of The Voice of Alabama Politics. You can email him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter.

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