Research News

Vanderbilt Unity Poll results demonstrate considerable support for individual freedoms

Vanderbilt Project on Unity & American Democracy releases its third quarterly poll measuring Americans’ views of national unity and the democratic process.  

Only one-fifth of Americans believe that everyday citizens are united when it comes to the most pressing issues facing the country, and just less than two-fifths believe that Americans are likely to unite in the future, according to the results released today by the Vanderbilt Unity Poll.  

While there is not a lot of optimism about unity in the country, there are some important points of agreement. For example, Americans highly value freedom of speech and freedom of expression. There is a shared commitment to that fundamental value. There is, however, a notable difference in that 70 percent of Americans viewed “speech” as “very important,” with 58 percent saying “expression” was “very important.” That speech draws a more favorable response than expression is notable. This 12-point gap has a partisan component—like so many things these days.  Republicans respond more favorably to “speech” than to “expression.” Democrats show no real difference between the two terms.    

When asked whether books should be banned because “they contain subject matter dealing with things like racism, sexuality, and gender and are not considered age-appropriate or could cause harm to children,” 42 percent of Americans offer support for banning books under these conditions, and 58 percent are opposed. There are stark partisan differences. Among Republicans, there is 60 percent support for banning certain books, while only 23 percent of Democrats support such efforts.  

Despite the various indicators that the country remains polarized, there are glimmers of hope.  For example, an overwhelming 84 percent of respondents expressed support for a compromise between U.S. House Speaker Kevin McCarthy and President Joe Biden to avert a government shutdown. Within the GOP, 78 percent of respondents were in favor of such a compromise, while 91 percent of Democrats endorsed it. That is strong bipartisan support. Even 67 percent of those Republicans who said they think of themselves as “MAGA” favor compromise. 

The Unity Poll is an initiative of the Vanderbilt Project on Unity & American Democracy, delivering quarterly assessments of Americans’ sentiment about the level of polarization and the state of our democratic institutions. 

Additional findings from our most recent survey include: 

  • While a majority of survey participants (64 percent) attribute the rising frequency of heatwaves and wildfires in North America to climate change, there is a notable divergence in opinion between Republicans and Democrats. Only 39 percent of Republicans concur with this assertion, whereas 88 percent of Democrats hold this view. Among younger people (age 18–29), 78 percent are more likely to agree with this statement. This proportion shrinks to 61 percent among Americans over 65 years old.   
  • When asked to reflect on America’s 250-year history, about half of respondents (52 percent) maintain their faith in the nation’s capacity to tackle contemporary challenges, consistent with the June survey findings.  
  • 40 percent of Republicans believe GOP supports Constitution, but Democrats don’t. There is basically no change from June, when the number stood at 38 percent. Similarly, 32 percent of Democrats believe Democrats support the Constitution, but Republicans don’t. It was 33 percent in June.   

The Vanderbilt Unity Poll was carried out by Opinion Panel Omnibus Platform of SSRS Sept. 8–12, 2023. Administered across various communication platforms and in English and Spanish languages, the survey involved a total of 1,032 respondents age 18 and above. The poll results carry a margin of error of plus or minus approximately 3.5 percentage points, with a 95 percent confidence level. 

Future Vanderbilt Unity Polls will continue to pose the same sets of questions, enabling the Unity Poll to monitor shifts across these key metrics. The Unity Poll is firmly dedicated to the pivotal mission of tracking public thinking and sentiment over time, affording the poll the capacity to offer insightful context for interpretation of its findings. 

The Vanderbilt Project for Unity & American Democracy strives for a more ideal union by leveraging evidence and rationality and by replacing ideology with verifiable facts. Situated in a geographically strategic position, underscored by an unwavering dedication to addressing the most significant societal issues, and boasting an impressive reservoir of intellectual talent, Vanderbilt is exceptionally positioned to lead this vital nationwide discourse.