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.
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
Hannah Fingerhut is a research analyst focusing on U.S. politics and policy at Pew Research Center.