Adults Are More Likely To Believe There Are Books That Should Be Banned Than Movies, Television Shows, or Video Games

Percentage who feel some books should be banned has increased 10 points since 2011; Three in ten Americans are more likely to read a book if it’s banned

08:00 AM EDT Jul 8, 2015 Rating
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Adults Are More Likely To Believe There Are Books That Should Be Banned Than Movies, Television Shows, or Video Games

NEW YORK, N.Y. – In just four years, the percentage of Americans who believe there are any books that should be banned has increased by more than half: 28% believe this to be the case today, vs. 18% in 2011.  One-fourth (24%) are unsure, which leaves nearly half of Americans convinced that no books should be banned completely (48%).

These are some of the results of The Harris Poll® of 2,244 U.S. adults surveyed online and in English between March 11 and 16, 2015.

“The things they're doing and saying in films right now just shouldn't be allowed.”  ― Mae West

When asked to consider other types of media, adults are less likely to say there are any movies, television programs, or video games which should be banned completely. Only 16% of Americans each believe there are any movies or television programs that should be banned completely, and one fourth say the same about video games (24%).  In light of this, perhaps it’s not surprising that seven in ten adults believe a rating system (similar to that used for movies) should be applied to books (71%). 

Similar to books, Republicans are more likely than Democrats or Independents to believe there’s ever a call for outright bans in each of these categories.

“A library is a place where you can lose your innocence without losing your virginity.”  ― Germaine Greer

Seven in ten Americans expect librarians to prevent children from borrowing materials that are inappropriate for their age (71% each).  Perhaps it’s this perception of librarians as gatekeepers that leads three-fifths of Americans (63%) to believe that children with the ability to read books electronically, without having to borrow them from a library in person, are more likely to read inappropriate materials (62%). 

However, for some, a librarian as a roadblock to information access is not enough.  Three-fifths of Americans believe children should not be able to get books containing explicit language from school libraries (60%, down 2 points from 2011), while half say the same of books with references to violence (48%, same as in 2011).  

Interestingly, similar numbers of adults would like to remove books that include witchcraft or sorcery (44%, up 3 points) and those with references to sex (43%, down 2 points) from school library shelves.  A little less than four in ten each would like to keep out books with references to drugs or alcohol (37%, down 4 points) and books that include vampires (36%, up 2 points).

In addition, a third of Americans (33%) don’t think children should be able to get the Koran from their school library and three in ten say the same of the Torah or Talmud (29%).  A fourth don’t think children should be able to get books that question the existence of a divine being or beings from school libraries (26%), while two in ten say the same of books that discuss creationism (19%) and 16% feel this way about books that discuss evolution.

Americans are least opposed to restricting children’s school library access to The Bible, (13%, up 2 points), the book currently crowned “America’s favorite” by a recent Harris Poll.

“Let us welcome controversial books and controversial authors.”  ― John F. Kennedy

However, where adults are wary of what types of books children should be able to get their hands on, many are less concerned with what information they might expose themselves to by reading controversial or banned literature.  Two-fifths of Americans admit they are more likely to read a book if it’s controversial (40%), while three in ten are more likely to read a book if it’s banned (30%).  Millennials are especially likely to display both these inclinations.

 

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TABLE 1A

BOOKS CHILDREN SHOULD AND SHOULD NOT BE ABLE TO GET FROM SCHOOL LIBRARIES 

"Do you think that children should or should not be able to get the following books, or types of books, from school libraries?"

Summary Grid

Base: All adults

 

Should (NET)

Definitely should

Probably should

Should not (NET)

Probably should not

Definitely should not

Not at all sure

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

The Holy Bible

80

55

25

13

6

6

7

Books that discuss evolution

78

47

31

16

6

9

7

Books that discuss creationism*

72

37

35

19

10

9

9

Books which question the existence of a divine being or beings (e.g., God, Mohammed, etc.)*

66

36

31

26

11

14

8

Books with references to drugs or alcohol

56

24

32

37

21

16

7

Books which include vampires

56

24

31

36

19

17

9

The Koran

55

28

27

33

12

21

11

The Torah or Talmud

55

28

26

29

13

17

16

Books with references to sex

51

20

31

43

22

21

7

Books which include witchcraft or sorcery

49

22

26

44

19

25

7

Books with references to violence

45

19

26

48

27

21

7

Books with explicit language

33

16

17

60

28

33

6

Note: Percentages may not add up to 100% due to rounding

*Added in 2015

 

 


TABLE 1B

BOOKS CHILDREN SHOULD NOT BE ABLE TO GET FROM SCHOOL LIBRARIES

"Do you think that children should or should not be able to get the following books, or types of books, from school libraries?"

Summary of those saying “probably should not” or “definitely should not”
By Trend and Political Identification

Base: All adults

 

Total 2011

Total 2015

Party Identification

Rep

Dem

Ind

%

%

%

%

%

Books with explicit language

62

60

73

60

53

Books with references to violence

48

48

61

47

39

Books which include witchcraft or sorcery

41

44

57

43

34

Books with references to sex

45

43

57

38

36

Books with references to drugs or alcohol

41

37

49

32

32

Books which include vampires

34

36

49

34

26

The Koran

28

33

48

29

28

The Torah or Talmud

24

29

39

29

23

Books which question the existence of a divine being or beings (e.g., God, Mohammed, etc.)*

N/A

26

35

22

21

Books that discuss creationism*

N/A

19

20

22

15

Books that discuss evolution

16

16

23

15

11

The Holy Bible

11

13

7

16

13

Note: Percentages may not add up to 100% due to rounding

*Added in 2015

 


TABLE 2

ARE THERE BOOKS THAT SHOULD BE BANNED COMPLETELY

"Do you think that there are any books which should be banned completely?"

By Generation, Party Identification, and Education

Base: All adults

 

Total 2011

Total

2015

Party Identification

Education

Rep

Dem

Ind

H.S. or less

Some college

College grad

Post

grad

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

Yes

18

28

42

23

22

33

25

24

23

No

56

48

35

53

54

40

48

58

66

Not at all sure

26

24

23

24

24

27

27

19

12

Note: Percentages may not add up to 100% due to rounding

 

 

TABLE 3a

ARE THERE OTHER THINGS THAT SHOULD BE BANNED COMPLETELY

"Do you think any of the following should ever be banned completely?"

Summary Grid

Base: All adults

 

Yes

No

Not Sure At All

%

%

%

Video games

24

64

12

Television programs

16

74

10

Movies

16

74

10

Note: Percentages may not add up to 100% due to rounding

 

 

TABLE 3b

ARE THERE OTHER THINGS THAT SHOULD BE BANNED COMPLETELY

"Do you think any of the following should ever be banned completely?"

Summary of those saying “yes”
By Generation, Gender, Party Identification, and Born-Again

Base: All adults

 

Total

Gender

Party Identification

Born-Again

Male

Female

Rep

Dem

Ind

Yes

No

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

Video games

24

20

27

32

23

20

30

21

Television programs

16

13

19

23

16

12

23

14

Movies

16

12

19

24

15

12

24

13

Note: Percentages may not add up to 100% due to rounding


TABLE 4A

CENSORSHIP QUESTIONS 

"How strongly do you agree or disagree with the following statements?"

Summary Grid

Base: All adults

 

Agree (NET)

Strongly agree

Somewhat agree

Disagree (NET)

Somewhat disagree

Strongly disagree

Not at all sure

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

There should be a rating system for books (as there are for films, TV shows, and video games)

71

35

36

23

12

10

6

I expect librarians to prevent children from borrowing materials which are inappropriate for their age

71

38

33

23

14

10

6

Children with the ability to read books electronically, without having to borrow them from a library in person, are more likely to read inappropriate materials

62

24

38

26

17

9

12

I’m more likely to read a book if it’s controversial

40

12

28

51

29

22

9

I’m more likely to read a book if it’s banned

30

12

19

62

29

33

8

Note: Percentages may not add up to 100% due to rounding

 

TABLE 4B

CENSORSHIP QUESTIONS 

"How strongly do you agree or disagree with the following statements?"

Summary of Agree

By Generation

Base: All adults

 

Total

Generation

Millennials (18-36)

Gen Xers
(37-48)

Baby Boomers (49-67)

Matures
(68+)

%

%

%

%

%

There should be a rating system for books (as there are for films, TV shows, and video games)

71

69

68

73

77

I expect librarians to prevent children from borrowing materials which are inappropriate for their age

71

67

69

73

78

Children with the ability to read books electronically, without having to borrow them from a library in person, are more likely to read inappropriate materials

62

58

55

64

76

I’m more likely to read a book if it’s controversial

40

53

34

33

33

I’m more likely to read a book if it’s banned

30

46

29

22

17

Note: Percentages may not add up to 100% due to rounding
 

 

 

Methodology

This Harris Poll was conducted online, in English, within the United States between March 11 and 16, 2015 among 2,244 adults (aged 18 and over). Figures for age, sex, race/ethnicity, education, region and household income were weighted where necessary to bring them into line with their actual proportions in the population. Propensity score weighting was also used to adjust for respondents’ propensity to be online. 

All sample surveys and polls, whether or not they use probability sampling, are subject to multiple sources of error which are most often not possible to quantify or estimate, including sampling error, coverage error, error associated with nonresponse, error associated with question wording and response options, and post-survey weighting and adjustments. Therefore, The Harris Poll avoids the words “margin of error” as they are misleading. All that can be calculated are different possible sampling errors with different probabilities for pure, unweighted, random samples with 100% response rates. These are only theoretical because no published polls come close to this ideal.

Respondents for this survey were selected from among those who have agreed to participate in Harris Poll surveys. The data have been weighted to reflect the composition of the adult population. Because the sample is based on those who agreed to participate in our panel, no estimates of theoretical sampling error can be calculated.

These statements conform to the principles of disclosure of the National Council on Public Polls.

 

The results of this Harris Poll may not be used in advertising, marketing or promotion without the prior written permission of The Harris Poll.

 

Product and brand names are trademarks or registered trademarks of their respective owners.

 

The Harris Poll® #39, July 8, 2015

By Hannah Pollack, Harris Poll Research Analyst 

About The Harris Poll®

Begun in 1963, The Harris Poll is one of the longest running surveys measuring public opinion in the U.S. and is highly regarded throughout the world. The nationally representative polls, conducted primarily online, measure the knowledge, opinions, behaviors and motivations of the general public. New and trended polls on a wide variety of subjects including politics, the economy, healthcare, foreign affairs, science and technology, sports and entertainment, and lifestyles are published weekly. 

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