Americans say schools should not be able to punish students for online speech made outside of school

Linley SandersSenior Data Journalist
May 12, 2021, 4:00 PM UTC

The Supreme Court heard oral arguments last month in the case of Brandi Levy, a 14-year-old high school cheerleader who was suspended from her team after she posted a profanity-laced rant on Snapchat about failing to make varsity. The Supreme Court has been asked to determine whether schools may punish students for online speech that happens while off-campus.

A recent Economist/YouGov poll shows that half of Americans (51%) have heard about the SCOTUS case, with very little variation between political parties. Most 30-to 44-year-olds (55%) have heard at least a little about the case, with half of younger Americans (49%) and older Americans (47%) being familiar with it.

Just one-quarter of Americans (25%) believe that public schools should be allowed to punish students for what they say online, outside of school. About half (52%) say that schools should not be allowed to punish students for this, and 23% are not sure.

Most full-time or part-time students (54%) say that it is appropriate for public schools to enforce punishments for their speech online while outside the classroom. Parents of children under 18 also tend to believe it’s more acceptable (45%) than not (37%). Democrats (37% vs 38%) are more likely than Republicans (22% vs 64%) and Independents (17% vs 63%) to think the punishments should be permitted. 

Americans under 30 are more likely to support the punishments for online postings (42% vs 41%), compared to 30-to 44-year-olds (33% say this should be allowed), 45-to 64-year-olds (19%), and those over 65 years old (11%). 

The Supreme Court is expected to issue its ruling on the case by the end of its term, around the final weeks of June or early July. 

See the toplines and crosstabs from this Economist/YouGov poll 

Related: Why YouGov is changing how we ask people whether they’ve received the COVID-19 vaccine 

Methodology: The Economist survey was conducted by YouGov using a nationally representative sample of 1,500 US Adult Citizens interviewed online between May 1 - 4, 2021. This sample was weighted according to gender, age, race, and education based on the American Community Survey, conducted by the US Bureau of the Census, as well as 2016 Presidential vote, registration status, geographic region, and news interest. Respondents were selected from YouGov’s opt-in panel to be representative of all US citizens. The margin of error is approximately 2.6% for the overall sample 

Image: Photo by Ashley Williams from Pexels