Many Americans Don't Like Free Speech
By Pierre Lemieux
One worrisome result in a recent Ipsos opinion poll is how many Americans don’t believe in freedom of the press. It is true that 85% agree (strongly or somewhat) that “freedom of the press is essential for American democracy,” but 4% disagree (strongly or somewhat, disregarding again those who neither agree nor disagree or who don’t know). The answers to the question of whether freedom of speech “is one of the values that makes America great” are roughly similar.
The belief in freedom of the press tends to drop when, instead of a broad question of principle, specific questions are asked. The answers to the statement that “the president should have the authority to close news outlets engaged in bad behavior” are striking, as shown on the table below which I borrowed from Ipsos. Although a bare majority of 53% of the total sample disagrees, fully 26% agree—43% among Republicans agree and 12% among Democrats.
Going to an even more specific question about some large news outlets, however, the enthusiasm for shutting them down is cut by roughly half. But still 13% agree—23% among Republicans and 8% among Democrats—that “President Trump should close down mainstream news outlets, like CNN, the Washington Post, and the New York Times.”
These results are not exactly consistent with the same survey showing that more people have an unfavorable opinion of Donald Trump (or consider him untrustworthy) than of most of the 25 news outlets listed. In fact, only for Breitbart and the Daily Beast do we find a higher proportion of people expressing an expression of untrustworthiness than for Trump. But such inconsistency is not unusual in aggregating the preferences of many individuals.
Although the respondents’ reactions may be partly a partisan reflection of who is in power and who is currently being most criticized, note that many Democrats also agree with censorship. Yet, this opinion poll suggests that the Republicans are now the party of censorship—real, hard government censorship.
Oh yes, to put the finishing touch to the picture of an advancing mob, 29% of the respondents agree with the statement: “The news media is the enemy of the American people.” Among Republicans, the proportion is 48%, compared to 12% among Democrats. The advancing mob seems to be a widespread phenomenon in today’s world.
Opinion surveys tend to show that Americans are less classical-liberal or libertarian than we might think. This one is especially troubling.
As Ipsos explains, the sort of online sample on which this survey is based is not random in the sense of ordinary statistical samples. “Bayesian credibility intervals” are used instead of the usual margins of error. (In the present case, the credibility interval is 3.5 percentage points for the whole sample, 5.9 for Republicans, and 6.2 for Democrats.) These methods appear less reliable than standard methods. We can only hope it is the case here, and that the difference would go the right way!