Cato Institute releases survey on free speech and tolerance

The Cato Institute, as I mentioned yesterday, conducted a poll (along with YouGov) of 2300 Americans on their attitudes toward free speech and related issues. Their report, “The state of free speech and tolerance in America“, is now online, and it’s a gold mine of data, even if the sample size is a bit small. While I summarized the results (as published in The Atlantic) in two separate posts yesterday, there are some results I didn’t mention, and some graphs that might be useful to those who gives talks on this stuff. Here are a few results I didn’t mention yesterday; the Cato Institute’s words are indented:

65% Say Colleges Should Discipline Students Who Shut Down Invited Campus Speak

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.

This of course depends on the nature of the infraction and whether it’s repeated. I think students should always be removed when disrupting event, but only disciplined formally if it happens more than once.  Now, on to the Halloween costumes, about which I’ll post later today:

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

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.

A majority of African Americans (56%) believe universities should intervene and advise against offensive costumes. Conversely, a strong majority (71%) of white Americans and a majority of Latinos (56%) believe that college students should discuss offensive Halloween costumes among themselves without administrator involvement.

This is the general public, of course, but I’m heartened to see that most people save African-Americans think that colleges should stay out of the issue. Since I haven’t seen any costumes making fun of blacks, I attribute that difference to a heightened sensitivity among African -mericans, which is of course understandable.

I don’t think that, in general, people should be fired for expressing views on their own time that don’t affect their job. (There are exceptions, but I won’t detail them here.) In this case Republicans are more punitive, especially when the speech of a “business executive” impugns “American values”:

What Beliefs and Expression Should Get People Fired?

Americans tend to oppose firing people for their beliefs or expression. However, Democrats and Republicans differ on what beliefs or expressive acts they believe are fireable offenses:

  • Republicans (54%) are more likely than Democrats (38%) to say a business executive should be fired if she or he burned the American flag during a weekend political protest.

  • Republicans (65%) are far more likely than Democrats (19%) to say NFL players should be fired for refusing to stand for the national anthem before games.

  • Democrats are more likely than Republicans to say a business executive should be fired if he or she believes:

    • transgender people have a mental disorder (44% vs. 14%)

    • homosexuality is a sin (32% vs. 10%)

    • psychological differences help explain why there are more male than female engineers (34% vs. 14%)

The contentious issue of “Nazi punching” (realize that many people think “Nazis” are “any extreme right winger”):

Is Violence an Appropriate Response to Hate Speech?

51% of Strong Liberals Say It’s Morally Acceptable to Punch Nazis

Most Americans (68%) do not think it’s morally acceptable to use physical violence against Nazis, while 32% say it is morally acceptable.6

However, strong liberals stand out with a slim majority (51%) who say it’s moral to punch Nazis in the face. Only 21% of strong conservatives agree. The survey found liberals were more likely to consider upsetting and controversial ideas “hateful” rather than simply “offensive.” This may help partially explain why staunch liberals are more comfortable than the average American with using violence against Nazis.

Strong liberals’ approval of Nazi-punching is not representative of Democrats as a whole. A majority (56%) of Democrats believe it is not morally acceptable to punch a Nazi. Thus, tolerance of violence as a response to offensive speech and ideas is found primarily on the far Left of the Democratic Party.

This saddens me, even the 1/5 of “strong conservatives” who think physical violence is morally okay. “Strong liberals”, however, are beyond the pale:

This saddens me too; note that there’s not much of an effect of age, but a large effect of politics, as Republicans are less likely to consider hate speech as violence. So do blacks and Hispanics compared to whites. This is one of the few datasets they have that’s broken down by age.

Hate speech is not violence, and thinking it so gives you a lame excuse to both ban it and retaliate with physical violence when you hear speech you don’t like. Remember, “sticks and stones may break my bones, but names will never hurt me.” Well, they can hurt you emotionally, but there’s a big difference between offending someone and breaking their nose.

People who don’t understand the First Amendment:

Including many Democrats!

The red bars are the censors and minorities, but of course the question is a bit dicey, as what does “create a difficult learning environment” really mean?

More on Pecksniffery:

Bias Reporting System

51% Oppose Bias Reporting System; 68% of Current Students Support It

A slim majority (51%) of Americans oppose while nearly as many (48%) support the idea of a confidential reporting system at colleges through which students could report people who make offensive comments about a person’s race, gender, sexual orientation, age, or disability status.

This “bias reporting system,” as it’s often described, is highly popular among current students. More than two-thirds (68%) of current college students and graduate students support it while less than a third oppose (30%). However, 63% of those who have already graduated from college oppose a system to allow students to report bias on campus.

Lots of people support this, especially Democrats. Note, though, a bit of age-related data: current students are much more likely to support a bias reporting system than those who have already graduated from college:

You can get the whole report as a free pdf here. Sadly, I don’t see much of the data broken down by age save the “hate speech” table above, so our questions about age and attitudes toward free speech are generally unanswered. UPDATE: See the first comment below; there ARE tables that break down the data by age of respondent.


  1. Historian
    Posted November 1, 2017 at 9:08 am | Permalink

    At the Cato site you referred to, to the right of the screen, you can download the PDF entitled “Tables.” This will give you the breakdown by age and other factors for the questions asked.

  2. Posted November 1, 2017 at 9:11 am | Permalink

    realize that many people think “Nazis” are “any extreme right winger”

    That’s so last month! We’ve now got to the stage where “Nazi” means “anyone who is not an extreme left winger”.

  3. Posted November 1, 2017 at 9:16 am | Permalink

    So 34% of Democrats believe that someone should be fired (yes *fired*) for believing that: “psychological differences help explain why there are more male than female engineers”?

    But it is likely true! Leaving aptitude entirely out of this, surely it is uncontroversial that *desire* to be an engineer could well be differently distributed among males and females?

    • infiniteimprobabilit
      Posted November 1, 2017 at 6:32 pm | Permalink

      I noticed that too.

      And I certainly think that psychological diffs are part of it.

      In that respect the question wasn’t entirely clear-cut. “Are psychological differences the whole and only reason” is vastly different from “Are psychological differences one factor” (the other, of course, being society).

      I’m an engineer, I would have liked to see a lot more female engineers, not least for the company. I’m still puzzled why there aren’t more.

      But firing anyone for their opinion on that, either way, is definitely out of order.


    • Posted November 2, 2017 at 11:44 am | Permalink

      Even if it is false, why should someone be fired for simply believing it?

      Whatever one might think of free will, doxastic voluntarism is even harder to make sense of.

  4. Dean Reimer
    Posted November 1, 2017 at 10:29 am | Permalink

    The one that concerns me is that so many non-white Democrats have such a profound misunderstanding of free speech and what it means to support it. I wish they would realize that such an attitude leads inexorably to totalitarianism. “You must support everything I believe or you are totally against me” is not an attitude conducive to progress.

    • infiniteimprobabilit
      Posted November 1, 2017 at 6:35 pm | Permalink

      I used to have an automatic reply to anyone who brought up “Are you with us or against us?”. “Against you, then.”

      It’s a totalitarian tactic. Oh, you said that.


  5. Posted November 1, 2017 at 10:39 am | Permalink

    The elephant in the room – overwhelmingly regressive attitudes on free speech by African Americans and Latinos. It’s sad and depressing. Further, if questions about progressive issues are asked (LGBT rights, for example), I’d bet both these demographics would not come out as “allies” by the progressives who tie themselves into knots over brown people.

    • Heather Hastie
      Posted November 1, 2017 at 11:05 am | Permalink

      I agree it’s sad and depressing because in all likelihood it’s a result of so many of them having to constantly put up with negative attitudes in relation to their race. Those differences wouldn’t be there if there wasn’t still so much racism in parts of US society.

      • Posted November 1, 2017 at 11:15 am | Permalink

        I agree with you on the question of why they might have such regressive attitudes on free speech but wonder how you could use that argument in defense of their attitudes on other progressive issues, such as LGBT rights.

        In the end I find it sad and depressing for a number of reasons, not the least of which is the one you cited.

  6. Ken Kukec
    Posted November 1, 2017 at 10:55 am | Permalink

    The survey seems to lend some credence to the prevalent stereotypes that the Left cares about fairness and egalitarianism and the Right cares about order and purity (which is why it long contended that water fluoridation was a commie plot to adulterate our precious bodily fluids. 🙂 )

    I suspect that the low (1 in 5) number of arch-conservatives who say its ok to punch an ideological opponent is understated due to the poll-takers’ failure to conjure a boogeyman for the Right comparable to what Nazis are for the Left. Either that, or the Right’s come a long way from the days of my youth when its major interests included, in the words of scofflaw king Jerry Jeff Walker, kicking hippies asses and raising hell.

    • infiniteimprobabilit
      Posted November 1, 2017 at 6:37 pm | Permalink

      So my teeth – most of which I still have – owe their existence to the Commies? I’ve got Communist teeth? I like it! 🙂


  7. Posted November 1, 2017 at 11:00 am | Permalink

    Reblogged this on The Logical Place.

  8. Rita
    Posted November 1, 2017 at 11:35 am | Permalink

    I wonder if those who support the campus bias reporting know anything about the history of the authoritarian days of the Stalinist regime, or even the cultural revolution in China. Those poll numbers are frightening, on that question and the one above where having a different idea of what constitutes free speech makes you a racist.

    • Posted November 1, 2017 at 11:59 am | Permalink

      You want to make these regressives heads asplode? Tell them Real Life Nazis ™ did the same thing – not the ridiculous loons today playing at being a Nazi or indeed, anyone wearing a MAGA hat (the regressives are deeply confused about what a Nazi is) – not them. I mean the ones in the Olde Tyme movies with their tanks and their Luftwaffe and their Zyklon; the ones who murdered millions. Them.

      They filled their camps with a similar reporting system.

      Those who cannot remember the past are condemned…blah blah blah.

      • Posted November 1, 2017 at 1:08 pm | Permalink

        Exactly. The group who is now nearest to actual real-life Nazis and how they acted is Antifa.

        And note that many Nazis saw themselves as progressive and left wing (the name “national socialist” was no accident).

  9. Kiwi Dave
    Posted November 1, 2017 at 2:59 pm | Permalink

    Do those who think it’s OK to punch Nazis also think Nazis have the right of self-defence? Presumably not.

    A rather depressing poll.

    • Gregory Kusnick
      Posted November 1, 2017 at 7:09 pm | Permalink

      Maybe that’s why it’s only the “strong liberals” who support punching Nazis. You want to be sure that first punch is decisive.

  10. Posted November 1, 2017 at 7:24 pm | Permalink

    —Should a business executive be fired if they believe…

    In all cases, yes! Business executives should have learned long ago the correct (negative) answers to those questions.

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