Views on ‘cancel culture’ vary by age and partisanship

It seems you can’t escape the term “cancel culture” these days, and nearly every day someone new is “cancelled.”

But what does “being cancelled” mean do most Americans? Is it a way to hold people accountable or a dangerous way to punish them?

The Pew Research Center asked those questions in a couple of studies in 2020 – and the answers might surprise you.

According to the study – conducted in September 2020 – a majority of Americans (56%) have very little or nothing about the term, including 38% are completely in the dark.

Not surprisingly, there’s a big age gap in those familiar with cancel culture: 64% of those under 30 know about it, compared to 46% among those ages 30-49 and 34% among those 50 and older.

The results get more interesting when those familiar with cancel culture are asked what it means: “Around half (49%) said it describes actions people take to hold others accountable” while only about 14% see it as a form of censorship.

But here’s where the deep partisan divide in the country comes into play:

“Some 36% of conservative Republicans who had heard the term described it as actions taken to hold people accountable, compared with roughly half or more of moderate or liberal Republicans (51%), conservative or moderate Democrats (54%) and liberal Democrats (59%).”

So is cancel culture a form of accountability or punishment? Almost 60% of all Americans says it’s about accountability, while 38% said it’s more likely to punish people who don’t deserve it. And again, there is a partisan divide:

Democrats were far more likely than Republicans to say that this type of action holds people accountable (75% vs. 39%). In contrast, 56% of Republicans – but just 22% of Democrats – said this generally punishes people who don’t deserve it.

Findings from an earlier poll from Politico and Morning Consult were a little different:

  • A plurality (46%) of Americans believe that cancel culture “has gone too far.”
  • About a quarter said they didn’t know or had no opinion on the effect of cancel culture.
  • Twenty-seven percent of voters said cancel culture had a somewhat positive or very positive impact on society, but almost half (49%) said it had a somewhat negative or very negative impact.

Again, though, thoughts are a little muddled:

In the POLITICO poll, 53% agreed with the statement that “even though free speech is protected, people should expect social consequences for expressing unpopular opinions in public, even those that are deeply offensive to other people,” while only 31% said their view was closer to the following: “There should not be social consequences for expressing unpopular opinions in public, even those that are deeply offensive to other people because free speech is protected.”

Even if you’re not being outright cancelled, any misstep can seriously damage your brand or your personal reputation. Tread lightly.


About the Author

Laurens Group

Laurens Group is a creative advocacy firm that leverages digital communication to engage, persuade, and activate.