Seventy-four percent (74%) of voters define “Hate Speech” as speech that encourages violence against a group of people. A ScottRasmussen.com national survey found that speech expressing dislike for a group of people qualifies as hate speech for 13%. Another 13% believe it’s speech considered offensive to a group of people.
Despite the overwhelming preference for a definition of hate speech that includes encouraging violence, there is a significant generational divide on the question. Ninety percent (90%) of seniors favor a definition that includes encouraging violence. That number shrinks to 61% among those under 35. For that younger group, speech expressing dislike for a group of people qualifies as hate speech for 20%. Another 19% believe it’s speech considered offensive to a group of people.
There is no gender gap on the issue and only a modest gap along racial and ethnic lines (see question wording and crosstab results).
The survey found that 97% of voters believe freedom of speech is at least Somewhat Important. That includes 80% who believe it is Very Important.
The national survey of 1,000 Registered Voters was conducted October 16-17, 2018 by ScottRasmussen.com and HarrisX, a polling company specializing in online surveys (see Methodology and the sample Demographics). It has a 3.1 percentage point Margin of Error with a 95% level of confidence.
Voters are evenly divided as to whether supporting freedom of speech means that hate speech must be allowed. However, data released earlier shows that 64% believe letting the government define hate speech is more dangerous than hate speech itself.
However, 49% believe it is possible to come up with a definition of hate speech that is broadly accepted by everyone in society. To test that, ScottRasmussen.com created a list of 17 statements that some might consider offensive. Many of them were extremely offensive. We asked 1,000 voters whether each of the statements qualified as hate speech that should be banned, was offensive but should not be banned, or were neither hate speech nor offensive.
None of the items were labeled as hate speech by more than 49% of voters. See the full list of statements and the topline results to appreciate how offensive some of the statements were. The refusal of a majority to say that any of them should be banned reflects a startling commitment to free speech .
It is important to note that this commitment to free speech does not mean voters find the specific comments acceptable. Data released earlier, and confirmed by the survey, found that 76% believe freedom of speech includes the right to say things that others find offensive.
Data released earlier found that 82% of voters are at least somewhat concerned that freedom of speech allows false rumors and statements to be spread. That includes 36% who are Very Concerned. On this topic, Republicans are more concerned than Democrats or Independents.
However, despite that concern, 64% believe it is better to live with the rumors than limit freedom of speech.
Earlier surveys showed that freedom of speech is seen by voters as the most important right confirmed in the Bill of Rights. Sixty-four percent (64%) of voters believe that freedom is more important than democracy.
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Neither Scott Rasmussen nor ScottRasmussen.com has any relationship with Rasmussen Reports® (see About Us).