Americans' views on book bans and the challenged books that they have read

Linley SandersData Journalist
May 09, 2023, 4:36 PM GMT+0

Book bans have existed in the United States for centuries, and ongoing debates over what is appropriate for students to read have continued the controversies over book censorship in 2023.

In a poll of 2,000 Americans, YouGov asked Americans about their views on restricting books, as well as which banned books they have read and whether they think those books should be banned. To create the list of banned books to ask about, YouGov relied on a list of the most-banned books during the academic school year that spanned 2021 to 2022 as well as the American Library Association’s list of Banned & Challenged Classics. Some of the 21 commonly banned books asked about on the poll have faced removal challenges for decades, while others were published within the last few years.

From the list of books provided, older adults were much more likely than younger ones to have read books from the classics list — published between 1937 and 1960. Americans 45 and older are much more likely than younger adults to have read "The Grapes of Wrath" (51% of adults 45 and older vs. 28% among younger adults), "To Kill a Mockingbird" (63% vs. 46%), "1984" (48% vs. 31%), "Of Mice and Men" (52% vs. 37%), and "The Catcher in the Rye" (47% vs. 35%).

Adults under 45 are more likely than older people to have read newer books that are being challenged, especially: "Thirteen Reasons Why" (27% vs. 5%), "Me and Earl and the Dying Girl" (24% vs. 3%), "The Hate U Give" (25% vs. 6%), "Gender Queer: A Memoir" (20% vs. 2%), and "The Lawn Boy" (21% vs. 3%).

Book bans divide Americans — there is no clear majority when it comes to whether books should be removed from public libraries or public school spaces. However, there is more support for banning books from classrooms and school libraries (46% of Americans say there are times when this is needed) than there is for removing books from public libraries (31% say this can be necessary).

Three in five Republicans (63%) say there are times when books or novels should be banned from schools — higher than the shares of Independents (41%) or Democrats (38%) who agree. Republicans are also more likely (42%) than Democrats (28%) or Independents (24%) to support banning books from public libraries in some instances.

While there is some support for book bans generally, majorities of Americans who have read nearly every one of the titles on the poll's list of banned books say they should not be banned. Among the 21 commonly banned books we asked about, readers were most likely to say that many of the classics should not be banned: "To Kill a Mockingbird" (89%), "The Grapes of Wrath" (88%), "Of Mice and Men" (88%), and "1984" (87%).

Readers were more willing to say some of the newer books should be banned, with the most support being for a ban of "Gender Queer: A Memoir" (41% of readers say it should be banned) and "The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian" (36% of readers say it should be banned). For each of the 21 books polled about, however, readers were more likely to say the books they read should not be banned than to say they should be.

— Carl Bialik and Taylor Orth contributed to this article

See the toplines and crosstabs for this YouGov poll

Methodology: This poll was conducted online on February 15 - 21, 2023 among 2,000 U.S. adult citizens on two separate surveys from February 15 - 17, 2023 and February 16 - 21, 2023, with each survey taken by 1,000 U.S. adult citizens. Respondents were selected from YouGov’s opt-in panel using sample matching. A random sample (stratified by gender, age, race, education, geographic region, and voter registration) was selected from the 2019 American Community Survey. The sample was weighted according to gender, age, race, education, 2020 election turnout and presidential vote, baseline party identification, and current voter registration status. Demographic weighting targets come from the 2019 American Community Survey. Baseline party identification is the respondent’s most recent answer given prior to March 15, 2022, and is weighted to the estimated distribution at that time (33% Democratic, 28% Republican). The margin of error for the overall sample is approximately 2%.


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