Liberal vs. Conservative Attitudes on Speech by Communists, Homosexuals, and Supporters of Military Dictatorship

I blogged yesterday about liberal/conservative divides among General Social Survey respondents on free speech questions: For anti-religious speech, speech arguing that blacks are genetically inferior, and speech by anti-American Muslim clergy, liberals were somewhat more likely than conservatives to conclude that the speech should be protected, though the gulf wasn’t great, and both liberals and conservatives were divided within themselves.

I’d like to finish by reporting on the answers to three other questions that were asked between 2000 and 2010, and that yielded 8000 responses, split roughly evenly among liberals, moderates, and conservatives:

1. “Now, I should like to ask you some questions about a man who admits he is a Communist: a. Suppose this admitted Communist wanted to make a speech in your community. Should he be allowed to speak, or not?” Liberals said yes by 77-23%, moderates by 64-36%, conservatives by 67-33%.

2. “And what about a man who admits that he is a homosexual? a. Suppose this admitted homosexual wanted to make a speech in your community. Should he be allowed to speak, or not?” Liberals said yes by 90-10%, moderates by 85-15%, conservatives by 81-19%.

Now this might be explicable by attitudes about the particular topic, and not about free speech generally. As to Communists, people might be more open to protection for the extremists on their own side (even if they don’t agree with those extremists) than for extremists on the other side. And of course liberals are less likely to disapprove of homosexuality — and thus disagree with the hypothetical speech by the homosexual speaker — than are conservatives.

But here’s one more question:

3. “Consider a person who advocates doing away with elections and letting the military run the country. a. If such a person wanted to make a speech in your community, should he be allowed to speak, or not?” Liberals said yes by 74-26%, moderates by 65-35%, conservatives by 66-34%.

The pattern is the same: Liberals are somewhat more likely than conservatives to support protection for the speech, though the gulf isn’t very wide, and there are divides within each group. And this is so even though there’s no reason to think the liberals are likely to sympathize more with the pro-military-dictatorship message, or even view as “my extremists, who should be free to speak even if I don’t agree with them.” I don’t think that either conservatives or liberals would view these people as their sort of extremists; though conservatives seem to have a higher opinion of the military than liberals do (also judging by a GSS question), I don’t sense any affinity either on the Left or on the Right for military dictatorship.

Some comments on some of the earlier posts suggest that the difference in responses might stem from conservatives’ being more likely to answer “no” to “should he be allowed to speak” when they would contemplate only social or economic pressure (i.e., private property owners should refuse to rent him space to speak). But I’m skeptical that this is the likely answer. Many speakers, after all, would speak in traditional public forums such as parks and sidewalks; no private economic pressure can stop that. More broadly, I suspect that “allowed to speak” in such a question — which doesn’t specifically refer to any particular private venue, such as a private church or private university or even privately owned meeting hall — would likely refer to “allowed by the government” (as opposed to prohibited, whether by a specific statute or by discretionary government action).

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