Buckley Institute Releases Ninth Annual National College Student Survey

For the first time, more students support shout downs than oppose them; violence in response to hate speech gaining in acceptance

A plurality “cannot bring [themselves] to being close friends” with members of the opposite political party

The Buckley Institute released the findings from its annual national survey of college students, gauging American college student opinions on free speech, censorship, and the major issues facing the country. 

Conducted by McLaughlin & Associates, this national survey of 802 undergraduate students attending four-year colleges and universities shows that today’s college students are more censorious than ever. For the first time in the history of the poll, more students support shout downs (46%) than oppose them (45%). Also for the first time in the poll’s history, an outright majority (51%) of college students support speech codes on campus, a change from last year when a plurality opposed speech codes (a 16-point shift in net favor-oppose). 

“Too much of the censorship we see on campus comes from students poorly educated on the value of free speech and university administrators unwilling to stand up for those ideals,” said Buckley Institute Founder and Executive Director Lauren Noble. “Students are more censorious than ever, even as their fear of being cancelled remains high. America’s colleges and universities must do a better job supporting free speech if the pursuit of truth is to continue on campus and across the country.” 

Students surveyed this year expressed willingness to allow university administrators to censor perspectives that might make them uncomfortable. In addition to the 51% who supported speech codes, 46% of students agree that opinions they find offensive from fellow students should be reported to school administrators, surpassing those who disagree (45%) for the first time in the survey’s history. An outright majority (51%) believe there are topics administrators or professors should ban from being debated on campus.  

Alarmingly, due process itself seems to be losing out to the instinct the cancel. 46%, a plurality, agreed that if one student claims that another student made an insensitive remark, the student who is alleged to have made the remark should have to attend sensitivity training or undergo some type of re-education regardless of whether the allegation has been proven. Only 43% disagreed. 

45% of students surveyed agree that if someone is using hate speech or making racially charged comments, physical violence can be justified to prevent that person from espousing their hateful views, an increase of 4 points over last year (47% disagree). This is the tightest agree-disagree margin in the seven years the Buckley Institute has asked this question. In 2017, those who opposed using violence outnumbered those who supported it 62% to 30%.  

America’s college students are still afraid to speak up in class. A record 61% are often intimidated from sharing beliefs different than their professors in class, an increase of 3 percentage points over last year. The percentage of students afraid to share their perspectives in class that differ from their classmates remained high at 59%, a four-point drop from last year but still a clear majority. Those rarely or never intimidated by classmates remained at the lowest levels on record in all but 2022. 

Our survey also looked at student views on the Supreme Court, crime and policing, transgender athletes, and the 2024 presidential primaries among other topics. 

Here are other key findings of the survey:

Free Speech

  • 46% to 43%, students agree that hate speech – no matter how racist or bigoted it is – is still technically protected under the First Amendment, an improvement from last year, when a plurality disagreed
  • 63% of college students believe professors should be required to make statements in support of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion as a condition of employment
  • 58% to 35%, college students support requiring that students, professors and faculty state their preferred gender pronouns when introducing themselves
  • A plurality of college students, 48% to 44%, “cannot bring [themselves] to being close friends with someone who affiliates with a different political party than” them because “that person likely harbors opinions that I find unacceptable”
  • By a 65% to 27% margin, college students support requiring professors to provide trigger warnings before covering material “that might ‘trigger’ difficult emotional responses.”
    • Only 27.4% believe “students should be able to handle any topic covered in class”
    • In 2015, the Buckley Institute found that a similar 63% favored professors or instructors using “trigger warnings” in class 

Gender Identity and Politics

  • 48% of college students surveyed say gender can be fluid versus 38% who believe gender is fixed
  • By a nearly two to one margin, 59% to 32%, college students believe the issue of transgender athletes competing in gender classes different than their biological sex is one “of fairness. And while I may support transgender rights, this disadvantages other athletes because there are biological differences between men and women”
    • That represents an 18-point surge since last year in net favorability for transgender athletes competing in accordance with their biological sex over transgender athletes being able to compete in whichever gender class they choose

2023 Presidential Primaries

  • When asked who they would vote for if the presidential primaries were held today:
    • Republican college students: Donald Trump – 46.1%; Ron DeSantis – 6.3%; Vivek Ramaswamy – 6.1%; Mike Pence – 4.5%; Nikki Haley – 3.3%; Tim Scott – 2.9%; Asa Hutchinson – 2.7%; Will Hurd – 2.5%; Chris Christie – 1.9%; Larry Elder – 1.2%; Doug Burgum – 0.4%; Someone else – 1.6%; Undecided – 15.1%
    • Democratic college students: Joe Biden – 31.6%; Marianne Williamson – 13.7%; Robert Kennedy Jr. – 11.8%; Someone Else – 13.0%; Undecided – 25.7%

Other Miscellaneous

  • 37% to 31%, college students prefer to live in a socialist system over a capitalist one, an increase from 33% to 31% last year
  • Nearly half, 49%, believe shoplifting and petty theft are minor crimes that are often victimless and billion-dollar corporations like Target, Walmart and CVS are not harmed
    • By contrast, only 43% say it is wrong to not investigate and prosecute shoplifting and petty theft 
  • 48% to 37%, students believe the Supreme Court has become nothing more than a partisan institution like Congress, is outdated and contributes to the decline of America while 37% believe the Court – even with its flaws – is still important to the system of checks and balances in America government

Survey documents: memo; toplines; year-over-year comparison; survey, methodology, and charts; and full crosstabs

All past surveys and documentation are available on Annual Surveys page.