Americans Don’t Want Books Banned, But They’re Divided Over What Schools Teach
Welcome to Pollapalooza, our weekly polling roundup.
Recently, an image that listed books banned in Florida libraries and schools began making the rounds on Twitter. The 25 titles, spanning classics from “To Kill a Mockingbird” to “A Wrinkle in Time,” caught the eyes of many, including Randi Weingarten, who is president of the American Federation of Teachers, a major teacher’s labor union in the U.S.
Only one problem: The list was fake. There is no banned-book list at the state level in Florida.
This isn’t to say that books haven’t been banned in Florida public schools. Earlier this year, the nonprofit organization PEN America reported that between July 2021 and March 2022, they’d found over 200 instances of book banning across seven Florida school districts. It’s just that these bans usually don’t include books like “To Kill a Mockingbird.” Rather, many of the books that banned in some districts in Florida — and elsewhere — are books that tackle race, gender identity and sexual orientation.
Lately, Republican-controlled states like Florida have experienced increased efforts to ban books that touch on these issues. In 2019, the American Library Association tracked 377 challenges to materials in schools, libraries and universities, and in 2021, the ALA tracked 729 — an increase of over 90 percent. And as we head into a new academic year, some students are already attending schools where their reading options are now more restricted. In Keller, Texas, for example, over 40 books have been banned this year, including a graphic-novel adaptation of “The Diary of Anne Frank” as well as multiple texts with LGBTQ characters. And in some parts of the country, there aren’t book bans, per se, but community members can challenge any book taught in schools that they find to be inappropriate.
Yet polls suggest that most Americans aren’t on board with banning books, not even those on controversial topics. In February, a CBS News/YouGov poll found that 87 percent of Americans opposed bans on books that discuss race, and the same share opposed bans on books depicting slavery. This aligns with two other polls from this year: A UChicago Harris/AP-NORC survey from March found that only 12 percent of Americans supported schools banning books that concern “divisive topics,” and a March poll by Hart Research Associates/North Star Opinion Research, on behalf of the ALA, found that 71 percent of voters opposed efforts to remove books from public libraries.
In fact, the ALA poll found little difference between Republicans (70 percent) and Democrats (75 percent) on the issue. Similarly, that CBS News/YouGov poll found that Americans on both sides of the political aisle were opposed to banning books, although it also found stark differences when it came to how issues of race should be taught in the classroom, and it’s this divide that has muddied the banned-book debate currently raging in schools.
For instance, even though there isn’t evidence that critical race theory, an academic legal framework asserting that racism is systemic and embedded in many American institutions, is being taught in classrooms across the U.S., many parents are worried that it is being taught thanks to Republican politicians’ and conservatives’ messaging on the topic. And as that CBS/YouGov poll found, Republicans have a very negative view of critical race theory, with 86 percent viewing it unfavorably, compared with 81 percent of Democrats who viewed it favorably. Moreover, in a YouGov poll published this week, Americans were asked how concerned they were about 17 different issues facing their local schools, and Republicans said they were most concerned that students were being “indoctrinated with liberal ideas” (62 percent), while Democrats said they were most concerned about book bans (57 percent).
But despite the partisan differences over education in public schools, it isn’t currently a top issue for many voters in this year’s midterms. Earlier this month, the Pew Research Center asked registered voters about the importance of 15 issues to their vote this fall, and while 58 percent did consider education “very important,” that result was clustered among a few others like gun policy (62 percent), voting policies (59 percent) and Supreme Court appointments (58 percent). The No. 1 issue was the economy, with 77 percent saying it was very important to their vote.
Ultimately, education may not be the top priority that Americans expect to influence their vote this November, but it remains a controversial topic. And if the overwhelming unpopularity of book bans is any measure, the issue could still influence how voters make their decisions.
Other polling bites
- A YouGov poll conducted Aug. 24 found that over half of Americans “strongly” (37 percent) or “somewhat strongly” supported (20 percent) President Biden’s recent decision to forgive $10,000 of student loan debt for Americans earning less than $125,000. Support rose to 80 percent among Democrats, while only 35 percent of Republicans supported the decision. Opinions were also skewed heavily by age, with 30- to 44-year-old Americans voicing the most support (66 percent) and those over 65 most likely to oppose the news.
- When it comes to eating out and how Americans get their groceries, concerns about the pandemic largely seem to have abated. Dining out is on the rebound, with 83 percent saying they now eat at restaurants once a month or more, compared to 87 percent in 2019 and 74 percent in 2021, according to a July 5-26 Gallup survey. Meanwhile, almost all Americans also said they shop for groceries in person at least weekly (82 percent) or monthly (15 percent). That’s comparable to pre-pandemic data, although the coronavirus does seem to have changed at least some Americans’ grocery habits for good: Twenty-eight percent now say they now order groceries online at least once a month, up slightly from last year (23 percent) and considerably from 2019 (11 percent).
- Following Kansas’s referendum on abortion earlier this month, a Navigator Research poll found that a clear majority (60 percent) of Americans self-identified as “pro-choice,” while only about a third identified as “pro-life.” Notably, there’s a distinct divide among racial groups, though, with a lower share of white Americans (57 percent) who were pro-abortion-rights compared to Black Americans (65 percent), Hispanic Americans (66 percent) and Asian American/Pacific Islander Americans (68 percent). And unsurprisingly, there continue to be party divides, although gender is also a significant factor among independents. Asked where they’d stand if a similar referendum took place in their own state, Democratic men (87 percent), Democratic women (85 percent) and independent women (75 percent) were far more likely to say they’d vote in favor of protecting abortion rights than independent men (48 percent), Republican women (40 percent) and Republican men (35 percent).
- While a Morning Consult analysis from last year suggested reality TV is increasing in popularity, recent data from YouGov found a split in whether Americans prefer watching it or potentially starring in it. Only about a fifth said they’d be very (10 percent) or somewhat interested (11 percent) in appearing on a dating reality show, as opposed to 62 percent who were not interested at all. Those numbers tick up a little in the context of a makeover reality show: Thirty-two percent said they’d be very or somewhat interested versus 49 percent who voiced no interest at all. And enthusiasm trends upward even more for home-renovation reality shows, with half of Americans saying they’d be interested in participating and only 34 percent reporting no interest at all. So much for Bachelor Nation.
According to FiveThirtyEight’s presidential approval tracker,1 41.5 percent of Americans approve of the job Biden is doing as president, while 53.8 percent disapprove (a net approval rating of -12.3 percentage points). At this time last week, 40.5 percent approved and 54.8 percent disapproved (a net approval rating of -14.3 points). One month ago, Biden had an approval rating of 37.7 percent and a disapproval rating of 57.1 percent, for a net approval rating of -19.4 points.
In our average of polls of the generic congressional ballot,2 Democrats currently lead by 0.4 percentage points (44.0 percent to 43.6 percent). A week ago, Democrats led Republicans by 0.5 points (43.9 percent to 43.4 percent). At this time last month, voters preferred Republicans by 1.1 points (44.2 percent to 43.1 percent).