Attitudes on Speech Restrictions Seemingly Reflect Education More Than Whose Ox Is Being Gored

As I mentioned before, the General Social Survey has long asked respondents the following questions (among many others):

76. There are always some people whose ideas are considered bad or dangerous by other people. For instance, somebody who is against churches and religion… a. If such a person wanted to make a speech in your (city/town/community) against churches and religion, should he be allowed to speak, or not? …

78. Or consider a person who believes that Blacks are genetically inferior. a. If such a person wanted to make a speech in your community claiming that Blacks are inferior, should he be allowed to speak, or not?

Two quite different questions, it seems to me, with the first referring to an attitude with which people on the left are generally somewhat more likely to sympathize than are people on the right (though in America, both people on the left and on the right are likely to be religious), and the second referring to an attitude that is generally associated with extremists on the right. Yet looking at the results in the 2000-2010 surveys, 76% of all respondents gave the same answer to both questions: Of those who said that the anti-religious person should be allowed to speak, 75% said also that the person who claims Blacks are inferior should be allowed to speak; of those who said that the anti-religious person shouldn’t be allowed to speak, 83% said also that the person who claims Blacks are inferior shouldn’t be allowed to speak.

Likewise, if one looked at people’s answers to (1) whether the person who believes blacks are inferior should be allowed to speak, and (2) whether an “admitted Communist” should be allowed to speak, 77% of all respondents gave the same answer to both questions. So there does seem to be something of a pro-protection vs. anti-protection orientation out there, and not just a whose-ox-is-being-gored orientation.

And one mechanism through which this orientation is spread, it seems to me, is education. For instance, here is the data mapping attitudes on whether the blacks-are-inferior speaker should be protected to the respondent’s highest degree; I have limited this to the years between 2000 and 2010, and only to whites, to minimize confounding effects:

No HS diploma HS Jr Coll Bachelor Graduate
Allowed 48.2% 61.2% 63.8% 73.5% 79.1%
Not allowed 51.8% 38.8% 36.2% 26.5% 20.9%

The junior college and graduate numbers are small enough that the margin of error gets a bit larger than I like, but excluding the year limitation yields similar results (48.9% / 62.7% / 66.8% / 76.5% / 80.3%) in the “Allowed” category, with the differences in each category being statistically significant at the 95% confidence level.