Pew: Sharp racial split on whether it's okay to publish Mohammed cartoons

Fascinating but frustrating, as asking if it’s “okay” is just about the vaguest way to phrase a question related to blasphemy. The “not okay” group could include people who think it’s impolite but tolerable to publish; people who think publishers should choose not to publish, whether out of sensitivity or fear; and people who think there oughta be a law.

However the question is being processed, though, the racial split keeps showing up in polls like this.


Note the gender gap too. This is the second major poll I’ve seen on Mohammed and blasphemy since the Charlie Hebdo massacre and there are noteworthy differences by race, sex, and party in both. When YouGov asked a few weeks ago whether the media should publish satires of religion generally, they found Republicans at +14 and Democrats at -9. When asked whether Charlie Hebdo behaved responsibly by publishing the cartoons, men were +34 and whites were +27 while women were just +6 and blacks were -16. On the follow-up question of whether publications should publish satires of a particular religion, men were +25 and whites were +10. Women were -16. Blacks were -34. That YouGov poll was taken immediately after the Hebdo shooting, though; the racial and gender gaps in today’s poll, taken several weeks later, are a bit smaller, with women now +19 on the question of whether it’s okay to publish. So there’s a hopeful note in an otherwise depressingly divided result. It could be that the Charlie Hebdo slaughter is reorienting American public opinion towards greater support for free speech.

Another question is whether this really a racial/gender split at all or whether something else is driving it. Here’s another tidbit from Pew on that. The first column is the number who said yes, it’s okay to publish Mohammed cartoons, the second column is no, and the third is don’t know.


College grads are +49 while those whose education ended with high school are merely +12. Even those with a little bit of college settle at a robust +32. So maybe tolerance for mocking Mohammed is less a product of different racial cultures than different educational cultures. Granted, the racial gap in college enrollment is now quite small among high-school grads, but it used to be larger. Could be that older black adults, who experienced Jim Crow and ended up less educated than their kids and grandkids, are less inclined to say it’s okay to publish the cartoons than younger black adults are and that that’s driving down the response among blacks overall. That would also help explain the striking difference between white Democrats and black Democrats. The former are +41 while the latter are -10; I wonder if there’s any issue within the GOP where the two wings of the party split quite that sharply. Americans with postgraduate degrees, most of them white, have broken heavily Democratic in the Obama era, which is surely pulling the overall numbers for white Democrats up towards supporting publishing Mohammed cartoons. Combine that with older, less educated blacks pulling down black numbers and you get a huge racial gap even within the party. Hope it shrinks or else the blasphemy issue will get even more contentious than it is now. And it’s already mighty contentious.

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John Sexton 1:00 PM on December 05, 2022