Principled or Partisan?: The Effect of Cancel Culture Framings on Support for Free Speech

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Political scientists have long been interested in the effects that media framings have on support or tolerance for controversial speech. In recent years, the concept of cancel culture has complicated our understanding of free speech. In particular, the modern Republican Party under Donald Trump has made “fighting cancel culture” a cornerstone of its electoral strategy. We expect that when extremist groups invoke cancel culture as a reason for their alleged censorship, support for their free speech rights among Republicans should increase. We use a nationally representative survey experiment to assess whether individuals’ opposition to cancel culture is principled or contingent on the ideological identity of the speaker. We show that framing free speech restrictions as the consequence of cancel culture does not increase support for free speech among Republicans. Further, when left-wing groups utilize the cancel culture framing, Republicans become even less supportive of those groups’ free speech rights.