Are college students today too politically correct?

November 15, 2017

Two-thirds of Americans (66%) say colleges and universities aren’t doing enough to teach young Americans today about the value of free speech, according to study results released by the Cato Institute.

When asked which is more important, 65% of respondents to the Cato poll said colleges should expose students to “all types of viewpoints, even if they are offensive or biased against certain groups.” About one-third (34%) said the opposite, opining that schools should “prohibit offensive speech that is biased against certain groups.”

Indeed, Cato found, despite their desire for viewpoint diversity, a slim majority (53%) also agree that “colleges have an obligation to protect students from offensive speech and ideas that could create a difficult learning environment.” This share rises to 66% among Democrats; 57% of Republicans disagree.

However, when asked about specific speakers, about half of Americans with college experience think a wide variety should not be allowed to speak at their college—including speakers who say that:

  • All white people are racist (51%);
  • Muslims shouldn’t be allowed to come to the U.S. (50%);
  • Transgender people have a mental disorder (50%);
  • The police are harassing citizens (49%);
  • Christians are backwards and brainwashed (49%);
  • The average IQ of whites and Asians is higher than that of African-Americans and Hispanics (48%);
  • Illegal immigrants should be deported (41%); or
  • Men on average are better at math than women (40%)

Nevertheless, few endorse shutting down speakers by shouting loudly (4%) or forcing the speaker off the stage (3%).

In fact, two-thirds (65%) say colleges need to discipline students who disrupt invited speakers and prevent them from speaking. However, the public is divided about how: 46% want to give students a warning, 31% want the incident noted on the student’s academic record, 22% want them to pay a fine, 20% want to suspend them, 19% favor arresting the students, 13% want to fully expel the students.

Three-fourths (75%) of Republicans support some form of punishment for these students, compared to 42% of Democrats.

The Cato Institute 2017 Free Speech and Tolerance Survey was designed and conducted by the Cato Institute in collaboration with YouGov. YouGov collected responses online August 15-23, 2017 from a national sample of 2,300 Americans 18 years of age and older.

Research contact: Emily Ekins (202-789-5200)

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