Archive | Liberal vs. Conservative Attitudes on Free Speech

Liberals, Conservatives, and “Hate Speech”

Over the last few days, I’ve posted several posts about liberal vs. conservative attitudes on a range of free speech questions, including “hate speech,” anti-religious speech, and more, both based on questions from the General Social Survey and based on an analysis of Supreme Court Justices’ decisions on these questions (whether from the 1970s to now or the 1990s to now). All the results show a similar pattern: (1) liberals tend to be somewhat more sympathetic to free speech protection, including for racist speech, than are conservatives or moderates, (2) the difference is fairly slight, and (3) all three groups are divided on the subject, often sharply divided.

As readers might have gathered, these posts have been triggered by the common argument that I hear from conservatives — for instance, in the comments to these very posts — about how liberals are supposedly eager to support restrictions on “hate speech” and on anti-Muslim blasphemy. Being someone who generally leans more conservative than liberal (and definitely more Republican than Democrat), I would have liked to endorse this argument, and see liberals as culpable in the occasional moves to impose such restrictions. But I think the argument is misguided, for four closely related reasons.

1. It’s factually unsound. Liberals are generally no more likely than conservatives to support restrictions on “hate speech,” and are probably somewhat less likely to do so (though the apparent distance between the groups generally isn’t that great, and is small enough that it’s possible that true distance is virtually nil).

It’s true that some “hate speech” restrictions, such as campus speech codes and even more aggressive restrictions, have been mostly proposed by liberals (in this instance meaning generally people who are left of center). But some of the leading opponents of such restrictions, such as Nadine Strossen [...]

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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 [...]

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Liberal vs. Conservative Attitudes on Speech by Communists, Homosexuals, and Supporters of Military Dictatorship

I blogged yesterday about liberal/conservative divides among General Social Survey respondents on free speech questions: For anti-religious speech, speech arguing that blacks are genetically inferior, and speech by anti-American Muslim clergy, liberals were somewhat more likely than conservatives to conclude that the speech should be protected, though the gulf wasn’t great, and both liberals and conservatives were divided within themselves.

I’d like to finish by reporting on the answers to three other questions that were asked between 2000 and 2010, and that yielded 8000 responses, split roughly evenly among liberals, moderates, and conservatives:

1. “Now, I should like to ask you some questions about a man who admits he is a Communist: a. Suppose this admitted Communist wanted to make a speech in your community. Should he be allowed to speak, or not?” Liberals said yes by 77-23%, moderates by 64-36%, conservatives by 67-33%.

2. “And what about a man who admits that he is a homosexual? a. Suppose this admitted homosexual wanted to make a speech in your community. Should he be allowed to speak, or not?” Liberals said yes by 90-10%, moderates by 85-15%, conservatives by 81-19%.

Now this might be explicable by attitudes about the particular topic, and not about free speech generally. As to Communists, people might be more open to protection for the extremists on their own side (even if they don’t agree with those extremists) than for extremists on the other side. And of course liberals are less likely to disapprove of homosexuality — and thus disagree with the hypothetical speech by the homosexual speaker — than are conservatives.

But here’s one more question:

3. “Consider a person who advocates doing away with elections and letting the military run the country. a. If such a person wanted to make a speech in [...]

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Are Liberal or Conservative Justices More Likely to Protect “Hate Speech”?

I blogged yesterday about whether liberal or conservative Americans are more likely to support protections for various kinds of speech, including speech arguing that blacks are genetically inferior — the General Social Survey question that’s most relevant to the debate about protection for supposed “hate speech.” It turns out that liberals are somewhat more likely than conservatives to support protection for such speech, though the gulf isn’t wide, and there’s a substantial split of opinion on both sides.

What about Supreme Court Justices? Since 1970, there have been several cases in which the Court has considered restrictions on what might be said to be “hate speech,” usually racist speech but in one instance misogynistic pornography. As I’ll note below, there are limits to how much this dataset tells us, but I pass it along for whatever it’s worth. So here is the data, with the caveats later. Each vote is classified as “+” if it supported protection for racist or misogynistic speech (or hinted substantially in that direction), “-” if it opposed such protection (or hinted substantially in that direction, and blank if the Justice didn’t express an opinion on the subject.

Justice Ideology Collin Hudnut Dawson R.A.V. Avis Black A Black B %
Brennan L + 100
Marshall L + 100
Stevens L + + - + - 60
Souter L + + + + 100
Ginsburg L + + 100
Breyer L + - 50
White M - + + - 50
Powell M + 100
Blackmun M - + + - 50
Burger C - 0
Rehnquist C - - + + + - 50
O’Connor C - + - + - 40
Scalia C + + + - 75
Kennedy C + + + + 100
Thomas C - + + - - 40

The bottom [...]

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Liberal and Conservative American Attitudes Towards Letting Anti-American Muslim Clergy Speak

Also from the General Social Survey, though this time with a question that was only asked in 2008 and 2010, yielding a total of 2500 respondents:

“Now consider a Muslim clergyman who preaches hatred of the United States. If such a person wanted to make a speech in your community preaching hatred of the United States, should he be allowed to speak, or not?”

  • Liberal — 52% yes, 48% no.
  • Moderate — 38% yes, 62% no.
  • Conservative — 39% yes, 61% no.

Here, the difference is considerably greater than as to anti-religious speech and speech claiming blacks are genetically inferior — discussed here — though it’s still in the same direction of liberals being more in favor of speech protection.

UPDATE: I originally accidentally typed “52% yes, 38% no” for liberals; I meant to say, “52% yes, 48% no.” [...]

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Are Liberal or Conservative Americans More Likely to Support Restrictions on Racist and Anti-Religious Speech?

Here’s data from the General Social Survey, limiting the years to 2000, 2002, 2004, 2006, 2008, and 2010 (with nearly 8000 total responses for each question), with respondents self-identifying as liberals, moderates, and conservatives. (I have flattened out the gradations within each category — extremely liberal/conservative, plain liberal/conservative, slightly liberal/conservative — partly because otherwise some of the cell sizes become small enough that the margin of error gets quite large.)

“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?”

  • Liberals — 83-17% yes.
  • Moderates — 76-24% yes.
  • Conservatives — 75-25% yes.

“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?”

  • Liberals — 67-33% yes.
  • Moderates — 58-42% yes.
  • Conservatives — 62-38% yes.

So looking at the public at large, liberals support protection both for racist speech and anti-religious speech more than conservatives do, though the gulf is not wide. Similarly, when the question is whether “such a person [should] be allowed to teach in a college or university,” liberals are likewise somewhat more likely to say yes, both as to the anti-religious person (72-38% liberal, 60-40% moderate, 57-43% conservative) and the person who believes blacks are genetically inferior (53-47% liberal, 47-53% moderate, 47-53% conservative). [...]

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