Podcast: Free Spirits, or Discussing the State of the First Amendment Over Drinks

What do Americans know about the First Amendment, and how do they feel about the hot button issues like social media policies, campus speech and the tumultuous relationship between the press and the President?


In this episode of The First Five, Lata Nott and Gene Policinski discuss the results of the 2018 State of the First Amendment (SOFA) Survey with the people who helped them create and conduct it–researchers Krysha Gregorowicz and Brian Griepentrog from the Fors Marsh Group, an applied research company.  (To make the results go down easier, they do this over a round of First Amendment-themed drinks.)

This year, the SOFA survey identified American’s feelings and attitudes toward fake news, hate speech on social media and how the media should cover the presidency. The 2018 survey also found that although most Americans can’t name all of the freedoms guaranteed by the First Amendment, they have strong opinions about specific First Amendment issues they encounter in daily life.

Some key findings:

  • Three out of four Americans (77%) are supportive of the First Amendment and the freedoms it guarantees, but most Americans are generally unaware of what those freedoms are. More than one-third of the survey respondents (40%) could not name a single freedom guaranteed by the First Amendment, and another third of the respondents (36%) were only able to name one. Only one respondent out of the 1,009 people surveyed was able to correctly name all five freedoms guaranteed by the First Amendment. Many more respondents (9%) thought that the First Amendment guaranteed the right to bear arms (a right that is actually guaranteed by the Second Amendment).
  • Americans consider fake news more objectionable than hate speech on social media, though both are opposed by large majorities. The survey showed that 83 percent of respondents agreed that social media companies should remove false information, compared to 72 percent who agreed such companies should remove hate speech.
  • 74 percent of Americans, compared to 68 percent last year, think that it is important for the media to serve as a watchdog on the government. A majority of Americans (70%) don’t think that the president should have the authority to deny press credentials to any news outlets he chooses. Americans also hold journalists to high ethical standards, with most (68%) agreeing that it is necessary for journalists to disclose conflicts of interest to be credible.
  • A majority of Americans (70%) agreed that a college should be able to retract an invitation to a speaker whose remarks would incite violence or threaten public safety (70%). There was less consensus about what to do with a speaker whose remarks would provoke large-scale protests from students. A little more than half (51%) thought that a college should be able to retract an invitation to such a speaker.  When presented with the example of a speaker who would be likely to offend groups or individuals, 42 percent thought that a college should be able to retract their invitation.

How do you know that you can trust the results of this (or any) survey?  Krysha and Brian discuss how they design and administer the survey for maximum validity and reliability, and explain what terms like “margin of error” and “confidence level” actually mean.



Lata Nott is the Executive Director of the First Amendment Center at the Freedom Forum Institute.

Gene Policinski is the President and Chief Operating Officer of the Freedom Forum Institute.



Krysha Gregorowicz is a Senior Researcher for the Fors Marsh Group.

Brian Griepentrog is Senior Vice President of Research for the Fors Marsh Group.




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