Americans censoring themselves on Covid, race and abortion – survey

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While liberal views prevail in public, most groups are far more moderate in private

A new survey has found that, despite expressing liberal views in public, most Americans’ actual beliefs are less extreme. The self-censorship goes two ways, with conservatives less supportive of the policies pushed by Republican politicians than they let on.

The Biden administration and liberal media outlets repeatedly argued that mask-wearing was an effective way of stopping the spread of Covid-19, and while 59% of Americans surveyed in March agreed in public, that number fell to 47% in private. Hispanics and whites were more likely to support pandemic restrictions in public but oppose them in private, as were women. While 63% of women publicly supported masking, only 44% actually believed it was effective.

Populace, the Massachusetts-based firm that undertook the study, attributed this discrepancy to social pressure. 

“The pressure to misrepresent our private views – to offer answers on politically and socially sensitive questions that are out of sync with our true beliefs – is pervasive in society today,” the think tank wrote.

The largest gap opened up when Americans were asked whether CEOs should “take a public stand on controversial social issues,” as many did in the wake of the 2020 murder of George Floyd.

While 28% of Americans publicly supported their business leaders sounding off on social issues, only 14% agreed privately. Some 44% of Democrats spoke favorably of socially conscious CEOs in public, but only 11% maintained these views behind closed doors. Notably, more Republicans – 20% – supported corporate activism in private. Likewise, college-educated Americans – typically considered more liberal than their uneducated peers – were less likely to support woke CEOs than Americans with a high school or lower diploma.

Broken down by demographics, some notable discrepancies emerged. Out of all demographic groups, Hispanics were the least comfortable sharing their private views in public. As of February, 55% of Hispanics would privately say that the US “should get back to life as usual with no Covid-19 mandates or requirements,” but only 39% would express this view publicly. 

Some 71% of Hispanics would privately say that crime has increased in their communities, but only 56% would feel comfortable saying this in public. 

This pattern fits with Hispanic voters’ migration to the Republican Party since the 2020 presidential election.

On abortion, 67% of Americans would publicly affirm that the choice to terminate a pregnancy “should be left to a woman and her doctor.” In private, this number falls to 58%, and while 60% of men would agree with the above statement in public, just 46% actually believe it in private.

While Republican lawmakers have accused school boards and teachers of focusing “too much on racism” in their lessons, Republican voters aren’t as concerned. 80% of GOP voters said that public schools are too focused on racism, with 63% actually believing this. However, Republicans are still the only demographic group in which a majority agrees with the statement. 

Continuing on the theme of racism, while 53% of Americans would agree that “racism is built into the American economy, government and educational system,” 44% would agree in private. The difference in opinion is starkest among those aged 18 to 29, with 65% believing this theory of “systemic racism” in public, and 42% agreeing in private.

“One important, but underappreciated, consequence of a culture of censorship is that it can lead individuals not only to self-silence, but also publicly misrepresent their own private views,” Populace wrote. “It is essential to understand the extent to which people are misrepresenting their views today, because when preference falsification becomes widespread in a society it can result in collective illusions that drive false polarization, erode trust, and hold back social progress.”

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