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August 25 2017

Poll: Nearly Three Out of Four Americans Would Die to Defend Freedom of Speech

by Patrice Lee Onwuka

Whichever side of the current hot button issue you fall on, you likely agree that every side has the right to share, express, or vent their feelings and you’re not alone.

According to new Rasmussen polling, an overwhelming majority of adults in the United States will take free speech (85 percent) over limiting speech (8 percent) to ensure no one is offended.

Interestingly, despite all of the events of the past year, even more Americans support free speech today than in 2016 when 83 percent said it’s more important for the U.S. to guarantee freedom of speech over ensuring someone is not offended.

In addition, Americans say they are willing to die to protect free speech rights:

Seventy-three percent (73%) agree with the famous line by the 18th century French author Voltaire: “I disapprove of what you say but will defend to the death your right to say it.” Only 10% disagree with that statement, but 17% are undecided.

Among Americans who agree with Voltaire, 93% rate freedom of speech as more important than making sure no one is offended. That compares to just 69% of those who disagree with the French author's maxim.

Yet, despite such a strong embrace of free speech, barely more than a quarter of Americans believe they have true free speech. Because of  political correctness, two thirds (66 percent) say they have to have to be careful not to say something incorrect that would offend someone else or get them into trouble.

Even substantive policy disagreements melt away between Republicans and Democrats over their willingness to defend someone’s right to say something – even if they disagree. Although, Democrats are slightly less sure than Republicans and Independents.

When Rasmussen looked at demographics they found that free speech is not so universal:

Generally speaking, most adults across the demographic board agree. Blacks (65%) are just slightly less likely than whites (75%) and other minorities (73%) to say they’d defend to the death someone’s right to free speech if they don’t agree with them.

Men are more supportive of the statement that women are.

This tells us that Americans recognize one of the most fundamental rights should be protected. It’s quizzical then why on college campuses, students are so willing to shut down planned speeches and administrators have been instituting speech codes or limiting free speech to specific zones on a campus?

It’s a reminder that the role of administrations and government is not to limit speech – regardless of how unpopular or offensive it may. Unless there is a very compelling reason such as violence, allow students to grapple with and battle over divergent ideas.

As students return to campus this fall, they need to learn how to respect the rights of their fellow classmates to hold views that may be entirely different from their own. That is what a civil society looks like.

Independent Women’s Forum’s mission is to improve the lives of Americans by increasing the number of women who value free markets and personal liberty. Sister organization of Independent Women’s Voice.
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