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New FIRE poll: Americans equally skeptical Biden or Trump will protect First Amendment rights

Donald Trump and President Joe Biden in front of a blue and red pie chart
  • Only 34% of Americans expressed high levels of confidence that either Biden or Trump will protect First Amendment rights in office.
  • The National Speech Index, a new quarterly survey from FIRE and the Polarization Research Lab at Dartmouth College, also found that Americans are skeptical of universities taking political stances, with a majority (53%) saying they should do so only rarely or never at all.
  • 53% also said someone using a heckler’s veto to shut down a speech in their community could be acceptable, with 19% saying the same about using violence.

PHILADELPHIA, May 8, 2024 — A new poll from the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression finds that no matter which major candidate wins the 2024 presidential election, Americans are fearful about the future of free speech.

When asked about their confidence that President Joe Biden, the Democratic presidential nominee pursuing re-election, will protect their First Amendment rights, only 34% of Americans said they have “quite a lot” or “full” confidence, 21% said they have “some” confidence, and 45% said they have “very little” or “no” confidence.

The results for Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump are virtually identical. Thirty-four percent said they have high confidence he will protect their First Amendment rights, 19% said they have some confidence, and 47% said they have little-to-no confidence.

Bar graph showing confidence that Biden-Trump will protect First Amendment Rights

Unsurprisingly, responses differed depending on ideology. Eighty-two percent of liberals reported very little or no confidence in Trump, and 78% of conservatives reported very little or no confidence in Biden. Ultimately, a whopping 82% of respondents reported low levels of confidence in at least one of the candidates.

“Americans don’t agree on much these days, but they broadly agree that free speech is in peril this Election Day—even as they differ about which candidate poses the worse threat,” said FIRE Chief Research Advisor Sean Stevens. “Of course, the lesson here is that when you don’t know if you can trust the next president, don’t allow the erosion of free speech rights even under a president you do support.”

The new poll, conducted between April 5 and April 11, is the latest installment in the National Speech Index, a new quarterly survey designed by FIRE and the Polarization Research Lab at Dartmouth College to gauge public opinion on freedom of speech. The 10-question survey consists of five permanent questions to track support for free speech and the First Amendment over time and five rotating questions to capture public opinion about topical and newsworthy speech-related issues.

In addition to the Trump and Biden questions, the survey also asked respondents whether colleges should make statements on political issues, a hot topic in higher education as administrators struggle to successfully navigate widespread campus protests over the war in Gaza. A majority of respondents (53%) agreed with FIRE’s position that colleges and universities should “never” or “rarely” take positions on political issues, 33% said they should do so only “sometimes,” and only 14% said they should do so “always” or “often.” 

Pie graph showing support for institutional neutrality

Finally, the survey asked a modified version of two questions on illiberal protest taken from the 2024 College Free Speech Rankings. In one of the more troubling findings of that report, 63% of college students polled nationwide by FIRE and College Pulse said that it is at least “rarely” acceptable to shout down a speaker to prevent them from speaking on campus, and 27% said the same about using violence.

The National Speech Index asked the same question about speakers, but within the context of a community speech rather than a campus speech. The general public was only slightly more speech-protective than students, with 53% saying that using a heckler’s veto to shut down a speech is at least “rarely” acceptable, and 19% saying the same about violence.

Bar graph showing acceptance for shouting down a speaker

“Anti-free speech attitudes among college students get a lot of attention for good reason,” said FIRE Research Fellow Nathan Honeycutt, “but everyday Americans off-campus could also benefit from a crash course in basic free speech principles.”

The National Speech Index is a new quarterly component of America’s Political Pulse, an ongoing weekly survey conducted by the Polarization Research Lab, which will allow researchers to track shifting free speech sentiment in America over time. Each week, a sample of 1,000 individual YouGov panelists is surveyed on partisan animosity in the United States. All data and results presented are weighted to nationally representative demographic targets. The raw data file is available here.

The Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression (FIRE) is a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization dedicated to defending and sustaining the individual rights of all Americans to free speech and free thought — the most essential qualities of liberty. FIRE educates Americans about the importance of these inalienable rights, promotes a culture of respect for these rights, and provides the means to preserve them.

The Polarization Research Lab (PRL) is a nonpartisan collaboration between faculty at Dartmouth College, Stanford University, and the University of Pennsylvania. Its mission is to monitor and understand the causes and consequences of partisan animosity, support for democratic norm violations, and support for partisan violence in the American public. With open and transparent data, it provides an objective assessment of the health of American democracy.


Alex Griswold, Communications Campaign Manager, FIRE: 215-717-3473;

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