In 1938, Gallup asked Americans, "Do you believe in freedom of speech?" and then asked whether free speech should extend to "radicals" and "communists" holding local meetings and expressing their views. While 96% of Americans said yes to the first question, far fewer thought radicals (40%) or communists (36%) should be free to assemble and speak out.
|Believe in freedom of speech||96||3||1|
|Believe in allowing radicals to hold meetings and express their views||40||56||5|
|Believe in allowing communists to hold meetings and express their views||36||57||7|
|Gallup, May 29-June 4, 1938|
A decade later, in 1949, Gallup posed a broader question asking Americans whether they "believe in freedom of speech for everybody," including "permitting anyone to say anything at any time about our government or our country." Half said they believed in complete freedom, while 45% thought there should be limits.
George Gallup explained in his 1949 news release that the impetus for the follow-up poll was an anti-communism riot that occurred that year at an outdoor concert headlined by famed baritone singer and actor Paul Robeson. Robeson had become a political lightning rod over his close ties to the Soviet Union and his outspokenness on civil rights and a variety of other social justice issues.
When those who thought free speech had its limits were asked to name the conditions under which it should be curtailed, 45% mentioned situations in which the government was being undermined, threatened or slandered, and 12% mentioned lies or slander generally. Another 11% said free speech should be limited when the country is at war, and 10% said that communists and Nazis, specifically, should not be afforded free speech.
|If government threatened, undermined, slandered||45|
|Lies, slander, destructive criticism||12|
|When country is at war, emergency conditions||11|
|Communists, Nazis should not be allowed freedom of speech||10|
|Foreigners, non-citizens should be denied freedom of speech||8|
|Inciting to riot, causing unrest||5|
|Derogatory, don't believe in freedom of speech||1|
|Based on U.S. adults who know what free speech means and think there should be limits|
|Gallup, June 12-17, 1949|
These data can be found in Gallup Analytics.
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