Most Americans associate 'cancel culture' with social media and Hollywood, not the government: Insider poll

  • Americans are relatively split on what they associate with the term “cancel culture.”
  • Despite growing debate around it, 16% of respondents said they don’t know what cancel culture means.
  • The largest consensus fell around social media and the entertainment industry.
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As the notion of “cancel culture” has become a staple of GOP messaging, a majority of Americans do not agree on where it’s happening, according to a new Insider poll.

The survey was done in conjunction with SurveyMonkey among 1,129 respondents, with a 3% margin of error.

Republicans and conservative media figures often refer to cancel culture in vague terms, generally associating it with Democrats and college students.

Some critics of the phenomenon — defined by Merriam-Webster as a demand for “greater accountability from public figures” — make slippery arguments on how it could lead to government censorship or attacks on unrelated entities, such as Bible characters.

Respondents were asked “When you hear the term “cancel culture,” which of the following do you most associate it with? Please select all that apply.”

  • 48% listed social media.
  • 34% identified entertainment or Hollywood, the second most.
  • 31% picked the news media.
  • 20% listed colleges and universities.
  • 16% said they don’t know what cancel culture means.
  • 25% associated the term with the Democrats.
  • 18% picked Republicans
  • Just 11% of respondents said they associate cancel culture with private companies, where most of the actual terminations and tangible consequences for current or past remarks tend to take place.
  • 10% picked local communities.
  • 10% listed the federal government, which is under far more constitutional constraints when it comes to free speech than private companies.

Partisan splits were more pronounced. Close to half of Republicans said they associate the term with Democrats, social media, and Hollywood.

Democratic primary voters, on the other hand, only came to a relative consensus on social media at 49%, while no other category got higher than 28%, which the group pegged to Republicans.

Only 7% of Republicans said they don’t know what cancel culture means, while Democrats matched the general sample at 16%.

For now, the polling indicates that cancel culture lacks the associations among the general public that are more prevalent in conservative media silos, and that partisan attitudes toward the term are substantial.

SurveyMonkey Audience polls from a national sample balanced by census data of age and gender. Respondents are incentivized to complete surveys through charitable contributions. Generally speaking, digital polling tends to skew toward people with access to the internet. SurveyMonkey Audience doesn’t try to weight its sample based on race or income. Polling data collected 1,129 respondents March 27-28, 2021 with a 3 percentage point margin of error.

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