Book Bans in Political Context: Evidence from U.S. Public Schools

37 Pages Posted: 28 Nov 2023

See all articles by Isabelle Langrock

Isabelle Langrock

Sciences Po; University of Pennsylvania - Annenberg School for Communication

Jack LaViolette

Columbia University

Marcelo Goncalves

Duke University

Katie Spoon

University of Colorado Boulder

Date Written: October 31, 2023


In the 2021–2022 school year, more books were banned in U.S. school districts than in any previous year. Book banning and other forms of information censorship have serious implications for democratic processes, and censorship has become a central theme of partisan political rhetoric in the United States. However, there is little empirical work on the exact content, predictors of, and efficacy of this rise in book bans. Using a comprehensive dataset of 2,532 bans that occurred during the 2021–2022 school year from PEN America, combined with county-level administrative data, multiple book-level digital trace datasets, restricted-use book sales data, and a novel crowd-sourced dataset of author demographic information, we find that (i) banned books are disproportionately written by people of color and feature characters of color, both fictional and historical, in children’s books; (ii) counties that have become less conservative over time are more likely to ban books than neighboring counties; and (iii) national levels of interest in books are largely unaffected after they are banned. Together, these results suggest that rather than serving as an effective censorship tactic, book banning in this recent U.S. context, targeted at low-interest children’s books featuring diverse characters, is more similar to a symbolic political action to galvanize shrinking voting blocs.

Keywords: book bans, politics, education, censorship, polarization

Suggested Citation

Langrock, Isabelle and LaViolette, Jack and Goncalves, Marcelo and Spoon, Katie, Book Bans in Political Context: Evidence from U.S. Public Schools (October 31, 2023). Available at SSRN: or

Isabelle Langrock (Contact Author)

Sciences Po ( email )

28 Rue des Saint-Peres
Paris, Paris 75006

University of Pennsylvania - Annenberg School for Communication ( email )

Philadelphia, PA
United States

Jack LaViolette

Columbia University ( email )

3022 Broadway
New York, NY 10027
United States

Marcelo Goncalves

Duke University ( email )

100 Fuqua Drive
Durham, NC 27708-0204
United States

Katie Spoon

University of Colorado Boulder ( email )

256 UCB
Boulder, CO CO 80300-0256
United States

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