Note: For more recent findings on this topic, read this December 2021 post.
When Republicans take stock of the national climate for political discourse, they see a much more hospitable environment for Democrats than for members of their own party. Nearly two-thirds of Republicans and Republican-leaning independents (64%) think that “Democrats in this country are very comfortable to freely and openly express their political views,” but only about a quarter (26%) think Republicans around the nation experience that same level of comfort.
By contrast, Democrats have only modestly different assessments of the national climate for members of the two parties, according to a new Pew Research Center study of views about political discourse.
Democrats and Democratic leaners offer a mixed evaluation of the atmosphere for both red and blue Americans: 45% think members of the GOP around the country are very comfortable to freely and openly express their views, while a somewhat smaller share (37%) thinks Democrats across the country are very comfortable.
These partisan differences are much less pronounced when asking about the climate for Republicans and Democrats “in your community.”
The sense of an unequal environment for political expression is most pronounced among conservative Republicans and Republican leaners: 69% think Democrats are very comfortable to freely express their views, while just 23% think Republicans are very comfortable, a 46 percentage point gap. Although moderate and liberal Republicans also are more likely to say Democrats are comfortable expressing their views than to say this about Republicans, the gap is substantially smaller (25 points).
Four-in-ten conservative and moderate Democrats say Republicans in the country are very comfortable sharing their political views – nearly identical to the share who think Democrats are very comfortable (39%). Among liberal Democrats, 36% say that Democrats are very comfortable expressing their political views, while about half (51%) say members of the GOP across the country are very comfortable to openly share their political views.
Similar patterns are seen in assessments of the climate for “liberals” and “conservatives” in the country, with clear majorities of Republicans – including 72% of conservative Republicans – saying liberals in the country are very comfortable to freely and openly express their political views, while just 14% say conservatives in the country are very comfortable to do this. In comparison, 54% of liberal Democrats think conservatives are very comfortable freely and openly expressing their political views, and just 34% say this about liberals.
At a personal level, Republicans are more likely than Democrats to say they themselves would feel comfortable discussing politics with someone they don’t know well (57% of Republicans vs. 49% of Democrats say this).