July 20, 2016

In ‘political correctness’ debate, most Americans think too many people are easily offended

At a time when the appropriateness of language has become a political issue, most Americans (59%) say “too many people are easily offended these days over the language that others use.” Fewer (39%) think “people need to be more careful about the language they use to avoid offending people with different backgrounds.”

A new national survey by Pew Research Center finds substantial partisan, racial and gender differences on this question.

About eight-in-ten (78%) Republicans say too many people are easily offended, while just 21% say people should be more careful to avoid offending others. Among Democrats, 61% think people should be more careful not to offend others, compared with 37% who say people these days are too easily offended.

The partisan gap is reflected in starkly divergent views among Trump and Clinton supporters. By a ratio of about five-to-one (83% to 16%), more Trump supporters say too many people are easily offended. Among Clinton supporters, 59% think people need to exercise caution in speaking to avoid offending others, while 39% think too many are easily offended.

The survey was conducted June 7 to July 5 among 4,602 adults on Pew Research Center’s nationally representative American Trends Panel. Full methodology and topline are available here.

There also are demographic differences in concerns over language that may offend others. About two-thirds of men (68%) say too many people are easily offended by language today, compared with only about half (51%) of women.

Among blacks, 67% say people should be more careful with language to avoid offending people of different backgrounds, while just 30% say too many people are easily offended by language these days. Among whites, opinions are reversed: 67% say too many are easily offended, compared with 32% who think more care should be taken to not offend others.

Among Americans overall, there are few significant differences by age and levels of educational attainment. While more across all age groups say language offends people too easily, those who are ages 65 and older are somewhat more likely than younger adults to say people need to be more careful to avoid offending others. Majorities, regardless of education level, think too many people are easily offended by language today.

However, within both parties there are educational differences over the use of language. Among Republicans, 28% of those with no more than a high school education say people need to be more careful with language, double the share of Republican college graduates (14%) who say this.

By contrast, Democrats with higher levels of education are more likely than less educated Democrats to express concern about language possibly offending others. Seven-in-ten Democratic college graduates say people need to be more careful with language, compared with 57% of those who have not completed college.

Among Democrats, blacks are 20 percentage points more likely than whites to say people should be more careful with language to avoid offending others (76% vs. 56%). And more Democratic women (66%) than men (54%) say people should be careful to avoid offensive language.

There also are gender differences among Republicans, though sizable majorities of both Republican men and women say people these days are too easily offended by language (73% of Republican women vs. 82% of Republican men).

Among older Democrats – those 65 and older – 70% think people should take greater care to avoid offending others. That compares with 58% of those ages 30 to 49 and 56% of Democrats younger than 30. Majorities of Republicans across age categories say people today are too easily offended by language.

Topics: Political Attitudes and Values

  1. is a research assistant focusing on U.S. politics and policy at Pew Research Center.

19 Comments

  1. Anonymous2 months ago

    Political correctness really is only contrary of ideas/opinion and thoughts. For instance, Islam, Feminism, gay rights, Animal Rights & Obese/Fat GhostBuster women lol. Although, its ok for the progressive left to call you a racist, Mysongist, Rape Advocate etc. etc. by stating true facts. I am happy to see that “Political Correctness” is being discussed and the progressive left is starting to look like Bunch of babies I.e. Social Justice Warriors. I think the Republican are starting to finally fight back it seems the progressive left have won for a long time etc.

  2. Anonymous2 months ago

    Words only have the power we as individuals lend to them.
    It’s very easy to choose to not be offended about something, It’s the emotionally unstable that demand people constantly be considering their feelings because they never learned how to control their emotions.

  3. Anonymous2 months ago

    Why do people seem to forget that offense is “taken” never “given”.

  4. TheRKae2 months ago

    I don’t think people are too easily offended.

    I think they are PRETENDING to be offended because it gives them political and cultural power.

    It’s like taking your own dead cockroach into a restaurant, putting it in your food, and raising a ruckus until you get your meal for free.

    Fake outrage: it’s the new normal in America.

  5. Anonymous2 months ago

    My observation is this:
    The issue of political correctness is singularly correlated to party affiliation. It is a purely partisan issue.
    No segment of people who are registered as democrats show a majority who think people are too easily offended. Conversely every segment of people registered republican the majority is on the side of people are too easily offended.
    Political correctness is the modern equivalent of shunning or shaming. It is an effective technique to change the public behavior of those who are shunned or shamed as long as the moderators of correct behavior (in our case the media) show the way.
    As it is practiced by democrats, or liberals, or progressives, it is a method to infringe on freedom of speech.

    1. Tom Steiger2 months ago

      Freedom of speech is freedom from reprisal from the government. Not private citizens; not your employer; not the civic organizations you might belong. It’s a free market of ideas; if the market turns against your ideas/speech, what would you do? Pass laws against it?

  6. see see2 months ago

    Careful…. hmm…. a couple of years more of such political correctness, it will be difficult to find any difference between the Soviet Union of the 1930s and the US.

  7. Anonymous2 months ago

    I have neighbors who still think that it should be fine to use the word “ni–er” so this poll doesn’t surprise me.
    My interpretation; Democrats think it’s rude to deliberately try to offend somone.

    1. Anonymous2 months ago

      It’s not about rude.
      The definition of rude moves based on the whims of some greater power in our society. Let’s call them the PC police.
      Comments made about Sarah Palin in the past were vicious and yet never caused a fuss by the PC police.
      Mitt Romney’s “binders of women” comment was heralded as supreme blaspheme.

    2. Melinda Lockwood2 months ago

      Or they say they do. I have heard many many Democrats be particularly unkind, racist, homophobic when their fellow “Dems” are not around. It is a contrived issue.

  8. Anonymous2 months ago

    Interesting, I always found those who say people should be sensitive to others, tend to be more of the bully with their actions. Actions, not words, is what matters…

  9. Anonymous2 months ago

    “Political Correctness” is not just about offending people. It is also about obfuscating reality. So many politicians and media pundits avoid reality by using euphemisms and aversion techniques, which intentionally color and cloud reality. It is a false presentation of the facts guided by an agenda to increase or decrease the significance of an issue. It is a communication technique used to mislead others by intent. Political correctness is unethical and leads to misunderstanding. Often its purpose is to increase or decrease fear – a basic human emotion that engenders action or avoidance.
    John Miller

  10. Helen Deines2 months ago

    Lately it seems the concept of “good manners” is out of fashion. I was taught that consideration for others is “the grease” that keeps the family, commerce, and society going. I have not always lived up to it, but being intentionally hurtful has never been accepted in my home or office. So what some call “political correctness” I consider simply respectful, considerate communication. I am still working part-time at 74, and find that if I am courteous to others, whomever they are, they unfailingly treat me in like ways. The golden rule seems to work.

  11. Anonymous2 months ago

    PC language is less about not offending people and more about breaking down biases and assumptions about who people are in order to foster equity and self-determination.

    I’d be interested to see if they changed the question to focus more on how language reinforces bias and strips people of their own identity and self-actualization rather than simplifying the question to focus on offending people. It’s not about being simply offended; its about being marginalized or reduced to a stereotype.

  12. Anonymous2 months ago

    Mr. Trump reportedly said, ““I think that the guy is lazy. And it’s probably not his fault because laziness is a trait in blacks. It really is; I believe that. It’s not anything they can control.” He was blaming losses at his Atlantic City casinos partly on his black accountants. He also stated, “The only kind of people I want counting my money are short guys that wear yarmulkes every day.” See Mark Sumner article in July 20, 2016 Daily Kos, citing memoir of John O’Donnell, who was former president of the Trump Plaza Hotel & Casino. Are these remarks justifiably offensive, or just “politically Incorrect”?

  13. James Igoe2 months ago

    Is anyone surprised that white college-educated conservative males find other people overly sensitive? In my experience, the demographic is the most offensive, and the least likely to be those targeted by hate speech or discriminated against, and it is common for them to target women and minorities of various persuasions, e.g., color, LGBT, etc.

  14. Anonymous2 months ago

    In summary, education matters, not political or racial differences.

    1. James Igoe2 months ago

      Did you even read the article, or review the numbers? Their findings are the nearly the opposite of what you wrote.

    2. Melinda Lockwood2 months ago

      Not really – the wife of a former university system president was overheard making unbelievably racist comments about the whites with whom she had to contend on a daily basis – she was black and very well educated. For every example of one, you will find an example of another.