Humanities Indicators
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Public Attitudes toward Censorship of Particular Book Topics
(Updated April 2019)

Weighing conflicting points of view to arrive at reasoned conclusions is a key humanistic competency, and Americans’ willingness to permit the public dissemination of texts that they find personally objectionable can serve as one marker of this capacity.

Findings and Trends

  • In 2016, Americans were less supportive of suppressing most types of texts than they were in the early 1970s, even though a nonnegligible minority of Americans still supported censorship of this kind (Indicator V-15). The greatest decline, 28 percentage points, was in the share of Americans willing to suppress books advocating homosexuality.
  • An exception to declining support for the removal from libraries of books on particular topics is texts asserting the inferiority of African Americans. The level of disapproval for this sort of text varied within a very narrow band over four decades. In 1976, 38% of American adults favored removal. In 2016, the share was 36%.
  • Data on Americans’ willingness to allow books by Muslim clergymen with an anti-American message are available going back only as far as 2008, but they reveal that approximately half of Americans—a considerably larger share than for any other type of material examined here—favor removal of such books from libraries.
V-15: Percentage of American Adults Favoring Removal of a Book That Espouses Certain Beliefs from the Public Library, 1972–2016*

* Recorded changes between years in the percentage favoring removal are not all statistically significant (p < .05).

Source: NORC at the University of Chicago, General Social Survey (1972–2016). Data analyzed by the American Academy’s Humanities Indicators (http://www.humanitiesindicators.org/) using the GSS Data Explorer.

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