Numbers, Facts and Trends Shaping Your World

Global Support for Principle of Free Expression, but Opposition to Some Forms of Speech

Americans Especially Likely to Embrace Individual Liberties

Although many observers have documented a global decline in democratic rights in recent years, people around the world nonetheless embrace fundamental democratic values, including free expression. A new Pew Research Center survey finds that majorities in nearly all 38 nations polled say it is at least somewhat important to live in a country with free speech, a free press and freedom on the internet. And across the 38 countries, global medians of 50% or more consider these freedoms very important.

Support for Free Speech, Press Freedom and Internet Freedom

Still, ideas about free expression vary widely across regions and nations. The United States stands out for its especially strong opposition to government censorship, as do countries in Latin America and Europe – particularly Argentina, Germany, Spain and Chile. Majorities in Asia, Africa and the Middle East also tend to oppose censorship, albeit with much less intensity. Indonesians, Palestinians, Burkinabe and Vietnamese are among the least likely to say free expression is very important.

Most Say Religious Freedom, Gender Equality, Elections Are Very Important
Americans More Supportive of All Forms of Freedom of Expression than Others Worldwide

Americans, however, are more willing than the rest of the world to tolerate these forms of speech. Large majorities in the U.S. think people should be able to say things that are offensive to minority groups or their religious beliefs. About half (52%) say this about sexually explicit statements, and more than four-in-ten (44%) think calls for violent protests should be allowed.

These are among the main findings of a new Pew Research Center survey, conducted in 38 nations among 40,786 respondents from April 5 to May 21, 2015.

When Can Government Stop the Media from Publishing?

Relatively Low Support Globally for Press Freedom on National Security Issues

Ranking Countries on Support for Free Expression

To further explore how countries compare on views about free expression, we constructed an index based on respondents’ answers to five questions about allowing specific types of speech, as well as three questions about whether the media should be allowed to publish certain types of information (see Appendix A for more details on the index).

Americans, Europeans and Latin Americans Most Supportive of Free Expression

Analyzing the data in this way reveals that Americans are the most supportive of free speech and a free press. Several European and Latin American nations also emerge as relatively strong supporters, as do Canada, Australia and South Africa. Meanwhile, Senegal, Jordan, Pakistan, Ukraine, Burkina Faso and Vietnam are at the bottom of the index, indicating relatively low levels of support for free expression.

Prioritizing Internet Freedom

In many nations the internet has created an important new public space where debates about political and social issues thrive. Even though internet freedom ranks last among the six broad democratic rights included on the survey, majorities in 32 of 38 countries nonetheless say it is important to live in a country where people can use the internet without government censorship. Across the 38 nations, a median of 50% believe it is very important to live in a country with an uncensored internet.

Publics with Higher Rates of Internet Usage More Likely to Prioritize Internet Freedom

Intense support for internet freedom is highest in Argentina, the U.S., Germany and Spain – roughly seven-in-ten in these four nations consider it very important. It is lowest in Burkina Faso and Indonesia (21% very important in both countries).

Internet freedom tends to be especially important to younger people, as well as to those who say they use the internet at least occasionally or own a smartphone. There is a strong correlation between the percentage of people in a country who use the internet and the percentage who say a free internet is very important, suggesting that as access to the Web continues to spread around the globe in the coming years, the desire for freedom in cyberspace may grow as well.

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