Keeping Your Mouth Shut: Spiraling Self-Censorship in the United States
Political Studies Quarterly 2023, forthcoming
51 Pages Posted: 16 Jul 2020 Last revised: 22 Dec 2022
Date Written: June 1, 2020
Over the course of the period from the heyday of McCarthyism to the present, the percentage of the American people not feeling free to express their views has tripled. In 2020, more than four in ten people engaged in self-censorship. Our analyses of over-time and cross-sectional variability suggest that: First, self-censorship is connected to affective polarization among the mass public, with greater polarization associated with more self-censorship. Second, levels of mass opposition to full civil liberties bear no relationship to self-censorship. Third, those who perceive a more repressive government are slightly more likely to self-censor. Fourth, conservatives report engaging in more self-censorship than liberals (but this is not true when comparing Republicans to Democrats). Together, these findings suggest that one’s larger macro-environment may have little to do with self-censorship. Instead, micro-environment sentiments—such as worrying that expressing unpopular views will isolate and alienate people from their friends, family, and neighbors—may be the driver of self-censorship.
Keywords: political intolerance; freedom of speech; political repression
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