Knight Free Expression Research Series – Knight Foundation

Knight Free Expression Research Series

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VP/Learning and Impact
Director/Learning and Impact


Free expression and the freedom of speech are cornerstones of American democracy. Our First Amendment rights to free expression play a vital role in maintaining a healthy and participatory democracy. We see speech and press freedom as central to our mission to foster informed and engaged communities.

It is critical for policymakers, campus leaders and educators to understand how students and adults living in America view free expression rights and related issues. Moreover, it is important for campus leaders to hear directly from students as they design their school environments. This is especially important in the 21st century, as technological and political forces impact free expression rights in an inclusive society.

We’ve spent nearly two decades conducting public opinion research in the Knight Free Expression (KFX) research series, which explores how emerging generations, as well as the broader American public, view freedom of speech and free expression issues.

Findings from our Latest Research

The KFX research series has grown into a robust body of work, illuminating longitudinal trends in attitudes toward free speech issues. With a focus on understanding high school and college students’ views of the First Amendment, this research provides policymakers and education leaders with insights to inform their campus environments and prepare the next generation to actively participate in our democracy. Below we have included key findings from our latest research:

Since beginning this research in 2016, we have found that college students view speech rights as important, yet less secure than in years past. Even with support for free speech, much of the debate on campus speech is due to the tension between fostering inclusive academic environments while upholding the principles of free speech. On the one hand, there is growing sentiment that the campus environment is stifling expression that may be offensive, while a small but growing number of students cite having felt either uncomfortable or unsafe due to speech on campus.

There is steady support for the First Amendment among students and teachers since we began this research in 2004. Students and teachers overwhelmingly agree that people should be allowed to express unpopular opinions, a finding that has been consistent for nearly two decades. Importantly, education on the First Amendment is directly correlated to student support for free speech. That said, less than 60% of students support news organizations publishing without government censorship.

Americans across many demographics appreciate freedom of speech and recognize its benefits to society and democracy. While most Americans feel they enjoy First Amendment protections around their speech rights, some groups––such as Black Americans––feel notably less secure. Additionally, 70% of Americans say that hate speech on social media is a serious problem. For the 2021 “Free Expression in America Post-2020” report, Knight Foundation commissioned Ipsos to conduct a survey with a nationally representative sample of more than 4,000 American adults, including an additional sample of 1,000 undergraduate college students.