Well, my title comes from the headline of this article in POLITICO describing a poll that it took along with the firm Morning Consult to suss out what Americans think about cancel culture (henceforth “CC”). Everything jibes—until you get to the end. Click on the screenshot to read.
I’ve put below the poll’s main conclusions about cancel culture, defined by the pollsters (and posed to the respondents) as “the practice of withdrawing support for (or canceling) public figures and companies after they have done or said something considered objectionable or offensive.” That’s a bit milder than Ross Douthat’s definition of CC as ‘. . . an attack on someone’s employment and reputation by a determined collective of critics, based on an opinion or an action that is alleged to be disgraceful and disqualifying.” In the POLITICO definition, you suffer by having “support” withdrawn; in Douthat’s, you suffer a loss of reputation and/or your job. (POLITICO, by the way, appears to be a mildly liberal site, but pretty much centrist.)
So, taking into account this milder definition, here’s POLITICO’s polling results (their words are indented):
1.) A plurality of Americans think cancel culture has gone too far and is harmful to society.
Cancel culture is generally discussed as being performed on social media in the form of group shaming. A plurality (46%) of Americans believe that cancel culture “has gone too far.” About a quarter of Americans — many of whom are perhaps blissfully offline — said they didn’t know or had no opinion on the matter. When they are removed from the results, a clear majority — across almost every demographic category — says that cancel culture has gone too far.
Twenty-seven percent of voters said cancel culture had a somewhat positive or very positive impact on society, but almost half (49%) said it had a somewhat negative or very negative impact.
2.) Most of the polled didn’t participate in CC, and those who did are mostly on the Left rather than the Right.
While online shaming may seem like a major preoccupation for the public if you spend a lot of time on Twitter, only 40% of voters say they have participated in cancel culture and only one in 10 say they participate “often.” It appears to be more of a liberal pursuit: Half of Democrats have shared their dislike of a public figure on social media after they did something objectionable, while only a third of Republicans say they have.
If this result be true, it goes against the contention that the Left and Right are both equally culpable in CC activities. And the greater propensity of the Left to cancel is supported by data from FIRE’s disinvitation database over the last ten years or so, showing that most “cancellations” at colleges, i.e., disinvitations to speak or get honorary degrees, comes from the Left rather than the Right.
And the general association of CC with the Left will give a boost (hopefully not a big one) to Donald Trump’s bid for reelection.
3.) Older people are less likely to cancel.
Note the link in the excerpt below.
Age is one of the most reliable predictors of one’s views. Members of Generation Z are the most sympathetic to punishing people or institutions over offensive views, followed closely by Millenials, while GenXers and Baby Boomers have the strongest antipathy towards it. Cancel culture is driven by younger voters. A majority (55%) of voters 18-34 say they have taken part in cancel culture, while only about a third (32%) of voters over 65 say they have joined a social media pile-on. The age gap may partially explain why Ernest Owens, a millennial journalist, responded to Obama’s criticism with a New York Times op-ed that amounted to a column-length retort of “OK, boomer.”
I have to say that this goes along with my own experience, which of course is anecdotal. Get off my lawn, Generation Zers!
There are other results as well, but I’ll give just one more:
4.) Most Americans aren’t aware of the kind of CC activities we discuss here, but those who are are anti-CC.
Not surprisingly, the POLITICO poll reveals that many Americans aren’t paying attention to many of these controversies. We asked about the Weiss resignation and the Harper’s letter. Forty-seven percent of those surveyed didn’t know about or had no opinion of the Weiss controversy and 42 percent didn’t know about or had no opinion of what, in the insular world of Acela corridor media, has become known as The Letter. [JAC: the letter in Harper’s.]
But in both of those cases for those Americans who did offer an opinion, the anti-cancel culture warriors had the majority view: 56% approved of The Letter and 70% approved of [Bari] Weiss’s decision to quit “because of perceived harassment and her perception of self-censorship within the New York Times due to Twitter.”
The article goes on to describe what they see as a cooling of CC, like the recent NYT article that wasn’t too hard on Steve Pinker (it’s striking that this is taken for evidence that cancel culture is losing steam), or the pushback by some journalists like Matt Taibbi (see yesterday’s post).
But at the end of the POLITICO piece, there’s one polling result that seems to undercut the rest, with most people saying there should be “social consequences” to expressing unpopular opinions:
In the POLITICO poll, 53% agreed with the statement that “even though free speech is protected, people should expect social consequences for expressing unpopular opinions in public, even those that are deeply offensive to other people,” while only 31% said their view was closer to the following: “There should not be social consequences for expressing unpopular opinions in public, even those that are deeply offensive to other people because free speech is protected.”
Now whether this contradicts the rest of the poll of course depends on what you mean by “social consequences.” I’m just guessing, but I interpret this as meaning more than just “verbal pushback” or “arguments against your views.” Rather, I take it to mean “social consequences” like demonization of a person or even calls for firing. Yes, of course if you express white supremacy or Nazism in public, you’re going to suffer a decline in your reputation (that’s one of the arguments for allowing free speech: to out the deplorables). But CC goes further than this in trying to attack someone’s entire character for much milder speech, and in reporting them to their bosses to get them fired. I wish POLITICO had been more specific in this question about the definition of “social consequences.”
h/t: Greg Mayer