Humanities Indicators
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Public Life  >  Public Attitudes toward the Humanities
Public Attitudes toward Censorship of Particular Book Topics

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 2012, 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, 24.2 percentage points, was in the share of Americans willing to suppress books advocating homosexuality.
  • The one exception to declining support for the removal from libraries of books on particular topics was books asserting the inferiority of African Americans, where the level of disapproval has been almost constant over time. At no point from the mid-1970s to 2012 was the percentage of American adults favoring the removal of such books from public libraries statistically different than the percentage recorded in 1976 (the first year in which such data were collected).
V-15: Percentage of American Adults Favoring Removal of a Book That Espouses Certain Beliefs from the Public Library, 1973–2012*

* Recorded changes between years in the percentage favoring removal are not all statistically significant (p < .05). For example, for no type of book did the percentage change to a statistically significant degree from 2010 to 2012. However, for every type of book other than that advocating the inferiority of African Americans, the difference between the percentage favoring removal in 2012 is statistically significantly different from the percentage who favored such action in the first year the question was asked.

Source: NORC at the University of Chicago, General Social Survey (1973–2012). Analyzed using the Survey Documentation and Analysis tool.

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