Majority Rejects Banning Even Extremely Hateful Statements

Data released last week showed that 64% of voters believe it is more dangerous to let government to define hate speech than to allow inappropriate hate speech that offends many people. That survey also found that 49% believed it was possible to come up with a definition of hate speech that is broadly accepted by everyone in society.

To test that, 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 full list and topline results).

Four had a plurality believing that they were hate speech that should be banned. Nine had a plurality that said the phrases were offensive but not hate speech, and four had a plurality that said they were neither hate speech nor offensive (see question wording and crosstab results).

A plurality between 43% and 49% believed the following four offensive statements constituted hate speech that should be banned:

  • “Mexican immigrants are all rapists, criminals, and drug dealers.”
  • “It’s ok to physically intimidate illegal immigrants.”
  • Black people are violent and should be watched carefully by the police.”
  • “It’s ok to attack a gay person if they try to hit on you.”

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.

The national survey of 1,000 Registered Voters was conducted October 16-17, 2018 by 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.

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.

All data presented by is to enhance the public dialogue through data-driven analysis that explores the underlying currents of public opinion (read About Us). Receive the latest insights each day by signing up for Scott Rasmussen’s Morning Update

Neither Scott Rasmussen nor has any relationship with Rasmussen Reports® (see About Us).


Posted in Poll Results

Scott's Newsletter
Sign up for Scott's newsletter and get his political insight delivered right to your inbox!