Poll: Majority of California Democrats don't support free speech

A poll of California voters found a majority believe free speech is being taken too far by allowing white nationalist groups to hold public rallies. From the Mercury News:

In the wake of violent protests from Charlottesville to Berkeley, more than half, a full 53 percent of California’s Democratic voters, believe we have gone too far in allowing those demonstrations. Some 50 percent of California Republicans, meanwhile, believe the right to demonstrate should not be restricted, compared with 39 percent of Democrats.

“I would have thought the liberals would be defending the right to demonstrate in general,” said Mark DiCamillo, who conducted the poll of California registered voters for the university’s Institute of Governmental Studies…

“Freedom of speech is good, but it all depends on what you’re speaking about,” said [Democrat Jewell] Taylor, who owns an auto repair shop. “I don’t like violence. I believe in making things better, and making things better is not sitting there and rallying about things that happened 100 years ago,” like slavery or white supremacy or the rise of Hitler that led to the genocide of Jews.

Obviously, a result like this is going to depend on exactly how the question is worded. Here, according to the Sacramento Bee, is the exact wording:

The poll asked voters to say which of two statements most closely expressed their views about such events: “We have gone too far in allowing these groups to carry out these types of demonstrations, which can increase racial tensions and lead to violence” or “We should not restrict the ability of groups to carry out these types of demonstrations, which are guaranteed under our First Amendment rights of freedom of speech and assembly.”

I don’t think the first question is very well phrased. It would be accurate to say these demonstrations have involved violence because they have. But saying they can “lead to violence” suggests a connection between speech and violence which shouldn’t be assumed. That’s the connection I think some Democrats are making here.

In reality, it’s possible to be against violence and for free speech at the same time. The two aren’t linked the way the question suggests. Violence isn’t covered by the First Amendment and we can work to prevent violence with aggressive law enforcement. Unfortunately, what we saw in Charlottesville, according to observers on both sides, was law enforcement holding back and doing nothing as the violence escalated.

Having said all of that, it is a bit worrisome how quickly Democrats are ready to abandon the First Amendment. Respondents ought to be able to work out themselves that being for free speech doesn’t mean giving a thumbs up to violence. But they either couldn’t or didn’t want to make that distinction. That really is a worrisome result.

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David Strom 5:21 PM on June 02, 2023