Increasing Number of Americans Support Banning Books

An early 2015 poll of more than 2,000 Americans has revealed a disturbing trend: Since 2011, the percentage of Americans who believe that there are books that should be banned has increased from 18% to 28%. Perhaps even more disturbing, only 48% of Americans stated that books should never be banned.

The poll, which was conducted in March 2015 by The Harris Poll, asked 2,244 adults about their views on movies, television, video games, and books. In particular, the poll asked respondents whether they felt any of these media should ever be banned. Books were the primary target of the respondents who support bans; video games came in second, with 24% of respondents supporting bans. Only 16% of respondents supported bans for movies or television.

The poll also revealed some other trends:

  • There was a link between education level and the likelihood of supporting the ban of materials: The higher the education level, the less likely the respondent was willing to ban media.
  • Republicans were almost twice as likely to support banning media than Democrats or Independents.

When asked about the role of libraries and librarians:

  • 71% of respondents thought books needed a rating system.
  • 71% of respondents also expect librarians to act as parents in absentia, preventing children from checking out materials that the respondents consider inappropriate.
  • Respondents cited the following as reasons books should be kept from children in school libraries:
    • explicit language (60%)
    • violence (48%)
    • witchcraft (44%)
    • sexual content (43%)
    • drugs and alcohol (37%)
  • Religion was also a factor in the urge to ban books in libraries: 33% of respondents would ban the Koran, 29% would ban the Torah, and 13% would ban the Bible.

You can view the poll data here.

The survey represents a small portion of the American population, but the results support a trend that CBLDF has noted over the last couple of years: The urge to ban books is increasing. In the first six months of 2015, CBLDF has had to help mitigate nearly twice as many challenges as we had to during the same period last year.

The poll doesn’t speak to why the urge to ban books is on the rise. It’s a complex issue that can be difficult to define. Some people challenge books because it’s a way to exert control over a life they otherwise have little sway over. Other people challenge books because of deeply held religious and political beliefs. Comics are especially vulnerable to challenges because of fundamental misunderstandings about the format and because it’s easy to target a comic over a single image. Unfortunately, these individuals fail to recognize that while it’s absolutely appropriate to make determinations about what they or their own children read, a challenge affects other people. They don’t have the right to take that decision away from others.

Fortunately, most challenges fail. Organizations like CBLDF and other free speech advocates continue to fight on behalf of the right to read, educating the public about their rights, assisting schools and libraries when they need help defending a book, and providing other resources. But the continued challenges and the losses — the bans — mean we need to stay in business. Maybe someday, 0% of respondents will support banning books. Until that happens, we need to continue to fight for the freedom to read!

Help support CBLDF’s important First Amendment work by visiting the Rewards Zonemaking a donation, or becoming a member of CBLDF!