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Updated at 3:51 p.m. ET
Heading into the 2020 Democratic primaries, a new NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist poll has a warning for Democrats: Americans are largely against the country becoming more politically correct.
Fifty-two percent of Americans, including a majority of independents, said they are against the country becoming more politically correct and are upset that there are too many things people can't say anymore. About a third said they are in favor of the country becoming more politically correct and like when people are being more sensitive in their comments about others.
That's a big warning sign for Democrats heading into the 2020 primaries when cultural sensitivity has become such a defining issue with the progressive base.
"If the Democratic Party moves in a direction that is more to its base on this issue, it suggests independents are going to be tested to stay with the Democrats electorally," said Lee Miringoff, director of the Marist Institute for Public Opinion, which conducted the poll.
The question was first asked as part of a Fox News/Opinion Dynamics poll in October 2010. Since then, the margin — between those who opposed more political correctness and those who favored it — has narrowed some. Back then, a slightly higher 56 percent said they were against the country growing more politically correct while just 28 percent said they were in favor, 8 points lower than this latest NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist survey.
"Political correctness" has been fundamental to the Trump phenomenon.
"I think the big problem this country has is being politically correct," then candidate-Trump said during a Republican primary debate, adding "and I don't, frankly, have time for total political correctness, and to be honest with you, this country doesn't have time, either."
On a host of issues, though, over the first two years of the Trump presidency, independents have sided with Democrats. That was proved in the 2018 midterm elections, as independents, despite their past GOP leanings, broke for Democrats and helped them win control of the House.
"If you're the Democrats, do you feed into this cultural gap?" Miringoff asked. "Do you step on the accelerator on the impeachment stuff, or do you stay with things like the environment, women's issues, health care, gun control — substantive issues that have been moving independents to Democrats' side?"
There are huge partisan, racial and gender divides on the question of sensitivity. The only groups in which majorities said they were in favor of people being more sensitive were Democrats, adults under 30, African-Americans and small city/suburban women.
Majorities of whites, Latinos, Americans over 30 and small city/suburban men, though, said the opposite. Just 1 in 7 Republicans and a third of independents said they like the country becoming more politically correct and people being sensitive in their comments.
There's also a big gender divide by place and education. Women who live in small cities or the suburbs say people need to be more sensitive, 52 percent vs. 37 percent. But just a quarter of men who live in the same place say so (27 to 57 percent), making for what have to be some very divided dinner tables.
White women with college degrees are split, but slightly more of them than not say people should be sensitive (46 to 43 percent). Nearly two-thirds of white men with college degrees, however, say the country is becoming too politically correct. (Roughly the same percentage of white men without a college degree feel the same way.)
What's more, Americans are split 47 to 47 on whether they feel they can speak their minds more freely compared to a few years ago. And here, interesting divides emerge as well. Those same suburban/small city kitchen tables are split — with a 27-point gender gap on this question in those places. (Men in those areas are 20 points more likely to say they feel censored, while women there are 7 points more likely to say the opposite.)
About half of Republican men (52 percent) and Republican women (55 percent) say they feel they cannot speak their minds as freely as a few years ago, but so do Democratic men (50 percent). Among, Democratic women, though, 51 percent say they can speak their minds more freely now.
Notably, however, there are a couple things going on; in addition to some groups feeling stifled by a culture of political correctness, some are feeling the opposite, and that may be because of President Trump's election.
Trump's largest base of support, for example, is in the South, and by 50 percent vs. 45 percent, Southerners feel like they can speak more freely now. That's the highest percentage of any region.
Civility declined since Trump's election
When it comes to the overall tone and level of civility in Washington between Republicans and Democrats, 70 percent of Americans believe it has gotten worse since Trump was elected. And there isn't much of a partisan divide on this one, as nearly two-thirds of Republicans also say so.
Roughly two-thirds of Americans also think people overall are less respectful of each other than they were a few years ago. People across party lines agree on this point as well — with 72 percent of Democrats, 70 percent of independents and 64 percent of Republicans all saying so.
Notably, slightly more people blame the media (37 percent) for the tone in Washington than Trump (35 percent). As between the two parties, 13 percent of people blame Democrats in Congress while 8 percent blame Republicans in Congress. Predictably, there's a partisan divide: About two-thirds of Democrats blame Trump; 58 percent of Republicans, on the other hand, blame the media.
The dynamic of Americans overall faulting the media has become more pronounced since Democrats won the House in November. In the November NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist poll, 40 percent blamed Trump and just 29 percent blamed the media.
And Americans have little faith that the overall tone and level of civility will get better now that there will be divided government in Washington beginning in January — 41 percent think it will get worse, 35 percent think it will stay the same and 1 in 5 think it will improve.
This poll of 1,075 adults was conducted Nov. 28 to Dec. 4 and has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.7 percentage points.
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