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’s critical for policymakers and educators to understand how Americans view free expression rights and related issues. This is especially important in the 21st century, as technological and political forces impact free expression rights in an inclusive society.
As part of that commitment, we’ve spent nearly two decades working on public opinion research that explores student views on the First Amendment and free speech. Our ongoing Knight Free Expression Research Series (KFX) explores how emerging generations, as well as the American public, view free speech and expression issues today. This work is essential to understanding how First Amendment principles play out in an increasingly digital and diverse America.
A Look at Key Trends in Student Speech Views Since 2016
Here is what we know…
Knight-Ipsos American Public survey
- Americans from all walks of life appreciate freedom of speech and recognize its benefits to society and democracy. However, many Americans place equal or more importance on mitigating social challenges that can arise from free speech, like preventing violence or the spread of misinformation.
- While most Americans feel they enjoy First Amendment protections, some groups- like Black Americans- feel notably less protected by these freedoms.
- Partisan affiliation drives wide-ranging views among Americans as to what constitutes a legitimate expression of First Amendment rights—particularly on topics that have been politicized. Most Americans believe they have a moderately easy time exercising their free speech rights, but most also believe that others – typically those of opposing political persuasions to their own – have an easier time.
- Most Americans say a variety of private and public institutions should prohibit racist speech but allow political views that are offensive. However, overall trust in these institutions is low.
Knight college student survey series (2016 to present)
- College students broadly support free speech, but see both free speech and free press as less secure than they did in 2016.
- Racial and gender gaps exist in the extent to which students see the First Amendment as a safeguard and on whether colleges should protect students from certain speech.
- Most students believe their campus climate prevents people from expressing their views openly, and regard social media as the central forum for campus discussion.
- Students increasingly favored campus restrictions on speech that targets minority groups.
Knight high school student survey series (2004 to present)
- High schooler support for the First Amendment has generally grown, but since 2011 we see emerging gender gaps and widening racial gaps on this issue.
- Many feel social media companies should limit hate speech on social media, and that social media stifles free expression because people are afraid of being attacked or shamed by those who disagree with them.