My New Study Proves It: Cancel Culture Is Much Worse on the Left | Opinion

Stories of mob-style cancel culture and violent protests at American universities like Yale, Evergreen State, and Middlebury are no longer the exception. Professors are now being regularly threatened with cancelation nationwide. Hardly a week goes by, it seems, without a new incident.

A music theory professor at the University of North Texas published a critique of another scholar's critical-race argument about music theory and his dean opened an investigation in the name of reaffirming "our dedication to combatting racism on campus and across all academic disciplines." A Princeton professor of Classics came under fire for a dissenting letter against his colleagues' racial justice demands and faced professional consequences as a result. A professor at University of North Carolina was accused of creating an "unsafe learning environment" for a pedagogical role-play exercise on social and economic justice.

Even at the at the University of Chicago, a school that has been on the forefront of free speech and civil debate and discourse with its Chicago Principles, a professor of geophysical sciences was attacked as "unsafe" for explaining his concerns about how his department was implementing diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives; he rejected the idea that in order to hire more women in science, the university needed to lower its standards. And attempted cancelation has ensued.

Mobs coming for professors have become so commonplace that this phenomenon has petrified and silenced many students as well, students who regularly report wanting to hear a diverse set of ideas but are afraid to speak up, as well as the handful who challenge woke, intolerant ideas and make national news. A tribal mentality on college campuses built around progressive calls for reform has emerged, and students and professors who push back against these leftist ideas are essentially cancelled, leaving them at risk of ostracism, intimidation and facing threats of significant consequence.

Worse, these tactics have spread from our nation's cloistered campuses to infect the nation at large. Many Americans report having censored themselves on salient socio-political issues out of fear of reputational consequences. This new dynamic is dangerous for democracy and threatens the societal progress that stems from healthy debate.

Of course, it's true that cancelation happens on the right, too. But our recent study, which sought to quantify cancel culture, found that it is far more prevalent on the left.


AEI's Survey Center on American Life sought answers to who is most likely to end friendships over politics. And in fact, we were pleasantly surprised to find that the numbers from the May 2021 American Perspectives Survey are not terrible: Only 15 percent of Americans report having left relationships over politics; 84 percent have not walked away.

A person's likelihood to end a friendship over politics is tightly coupled with their politics. Just eleven percent of those who identify as ideologically moderate say they have lost a friend over political matters. The number is a bit lower for Republican leaners, 8 percent, and higher for Democrat leaners, at 18 percent.

But a further breakdown of the responses reveals some troubling findings. While 10 percent of conservatives say they have lost a friend over politics, 28 percent of liberals say the same. For extreme conservative identifiers, 22 percent say they have cancelled a friendship, a handful of points higher than the national average.

In contrast, a whopping 45 percent of extreme liberal identifiers have ended a friendship over politics—twice the figure of their conservative counterparts.

While those on both extremes make up just under ten percent of the overall sample, extremely liberal Americans and their actions have made cancel culture a household name.

Even amidst the political chaos of 2020, politics is not a regular point of conversation amongst friends. Only 6 percent of Americans say they talk government and politics with their friends on a near-daily basis. Another 15 percent say they and their friends discuss the matter a few times a week. About a quarter (24 percent) chat about civics a few times a month, while the majority (55 percent) do so less often.

However, 44 percent of extreme liberals talk politics at least a few times a week, compared to just 13 percent of moderates and 32 percent of extreme conservatives. A quarter of Americans who are solidly but not extremely liberal or conservative discuss politics with friends on at least a weekly basis. While there is an ample number of conservatives who talk politics frequently, conservatives are far less likely than liberals to lose or end friendships over disagreement; instead, it appears that it is primarily liberals who cut off ties with those they disagree with.

Moreover, the impulse to cancel does not stem from traditional social cleavages. If we look at generational cohorts, a huge factor in political behavior and outlook, we see minimal differences. Only 13 percent of Gen Zers and 17 percent of Millennials have lost a friend because of that person's political beliefs. The numbers are practically the same for their Boomer parents and grandparents at 18 percent.

Neither race nor geography appear to play much of a role in an individual's likeliness to end a friendship over politics either. While 16 percent of white Americans claim they have stopped talking to friends because of politics, 10 percent of Black Americans and 12 percent of Hispanic Americans report doing the same. City dwellers, who often find themselves in the midst of protests, are only a couple of points (17 percent) more likely to say they have lost friends due to political difference than those who live in the sprawling, more private suburbs (15 percent).

So in a way, it's good news and bad news. Cancel culture may not be as rampant as social media and the press make it appear, but it remains an approach disproportionately taken by those left of center.

This behavior is not only hypocritical given the language of love and tolerance liberals preach, but it is also counterproductive. Our civic vitality is threatened when people cannot find shared humanity and fail to empathize with others and recognize that politics is about tradeoffs and hearing the other side.

Samuel J. Abrams is professor of politics at Sarah Lawrence College and a visiting scholar at the American Enterprise Institute.

The views in this article are the writer's own.