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POLL: 69% of Americans believe country on wrong track on free speech

Person holding a megaphone with speech bubbles around it.
  • Only 1 in 4 Americans (25%) think the right to free speech today is either “very” or “completely” secure.
  • Nearly a third of Americans (31%), including similar numbers of Republicans and Democrats, think the First Amendment “goes too far.”
  • The new poll is the first installment in FIRE’s new National Speech Index, a partnership with the Polarization Research Lab to survey Americans about their beliefs on free speech.

PHILADELPHIA, Feb. 27, 2024 — More than two-thirds of Americans believe the country is on the wrong track when it comes to freedom of speech, according to new survey results from the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression and the Polarization Research Lab at Dartmouth College.

When asked about “whether people are able to freely express their views,” 69% of respondents said things in America are heading in the wrong direction, compared to only 31% who believe that things are heading in the right direction.

National Speech Index

The poll also shows that only a quarter of Americans believe the right to freedom of speech is ‘very’ or ‘completely’ secure, and almost a third (29%) say it is not at all secure.

“The average American already thinks that free speech in America is in dire straits. Most worryingly, they think it will get worse,” said FIRE Chief Research Advisor Sean Stevens. “These findings should be a wake-up call for the nation to recommit to a vibrant free speech culture before it’s too late.”

The new poll, conducted from January 12-19, is the first installment in the National Speech Index, a new quarterly survey designed by FIRE and PRL to measure support for the First Amendment and track how Americans think about the state of free speech in the country over time.

“Polarization not only divides Americans on policy, but it fractures our assessments of the stability of the bedrock features of our democracy,” said PRL Director Sean Westwood. “Nearly half of Democrats think free speech rights are headed in the right direction, compared to only 26 percent of Republicans. And more than a third of Republicans think the right to free speech is not secure, compared to only 17 percent of Democrats.”

One alarmingly common belief that crosses partisan lines is that idea that the First Amendment “goes too far in the rights it guarantees.” Around a third of Republicans and a third of Democrats “completely” or “mostly” agree with that statement.

To gauge public acceptance of protecting even unpopular beliefs, the survey also presented a list of statements that were controversial, but protected by the First Amendment. Respondents were asked which belief they found most offensive, then asked if they supported several forms of censorship targeting that belief. The most disliked belief varied by race and party, but the most frequent selections were “All whites are racist oppressors,” “America got what it deserved on 9/11,” and “January 6th was a peaceful protest.”

List of most offensive statements in the National Free Speech Index

Roughly half of respondents (52%) said their community should not allow a public speech that espouses the belief they selected as the most offensive. A supermajority, 69%, said their local college should not allow a professor who espoused that belief to teach classes.

Bar graph showing answers when asked their local college should not allow a professor who espoused that belief to teach classes.

“Those results were disappointing, but not exactly surprising,” said Stevens. “Here at FIRE, we’ve long observed that many people who say they’re concerned about free speech waver when it comes to beliefs they personally find offensive. But the best way to protect your speech in the future is to defend the right to controversial and offensive speech today.”

Other forms of censorship are less popular. Americans do not support removing books from public libraries that espouse the belief they found most offensive, with roughly three-fifths (59%) opposed to such actions. And almost three-quarters (72%) believe people who voice the belief they found most offensive should not be fired from their jobs.

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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