A debate surrounding ‘Cancel Culture,’ a term used to describe the practice whereby people are fired or forced to resign from their jobs and other positions due to unpopular comments, is the newest national issue in the United States. The subject was most prominently raised and condemned in a speech at Mount Rushmore by Donald Trump on the 4th of July.
One third of respondents to our national poll a few days later on the 9th of July reported having watched or read Trump’s speech at Mount Rushmore on America’s Independence Day, revealing some public awareness of the contents of his speech. Notably, the speech was followed by roughly half of Trump voters, but only a quarter of Biden voters.
A strong majority (63%) of this group approved of the speech. Respondent’s approval or disapproval nevertheless had a clear partisan dimension. Of those who had seen the speech, 93% of likely Trump voters and 17% of likely Biden voters approved of the speech, while 77% of likely Biden voters and just 1% of Trump voters disapproved of the speech.
Given that those who followed the speech were more likely to be supporters of the President anyways, it may be expected for the President to receive such a high approval rating for his speech. If the entire population had seen his speech, it is quite likely more would have disapproved. At the same time, this result could still suggest that the more viewers the President is able to attract, the more likely some people may warm up to his pitch.
A plurality (38%) of all respondents moreover seemed to share the President’s concerns that ‘cancel culture’ both exists and is an attack on American liberty, a phrase from Donald Trump’s speech which was left unattributed in our poll. Despite this lack of attribution, attitudes were heavily shaped by party affiliation, as a majority of those intending to vote for Trump agreed with the statement, in contrast to Joe Biden’s supporters, who appeared somewhat split (23% agreeing against 27% disagreeing).
It is important to note that almost half (46%) of all respondents did not express any agreement or disagreement to this statement, suggesting the conversation remains fairly novel and many remain either unfamiliar with it or have not had to make up their mind yet.
A similarly strong plurality (40%) also agreed with a bloc quotation taken from Trump’s speech which encapsulated his stance on ‘cancel culture’ and ‘far-left fascism’. In this instance, it was again not made explicit to respondents that this quote was from President Trump’s speech.
As before, support remained well within party lines, as 63% of Trump voters were in agreement with the President, while Biden supporters were almost twice as likely to disagree than agree. It is, however, worth noting that a significant minority of likely Biden voters (23% and 24% respectively) did agree with these two unattributed statements from President Trump.
The most prominent physical acts of ‘cancel culture’ so far have been the toppling of statues, ranging from Confederate leaders to Christopher Columbus. The public’s response revealed broad opposition to the removal of statues of a diverse range of well-known characters in American history. Across the ten figures included in the questions, an average of 27% supported taking them down, while 46% opposed.
Respondents were most willing to protect statues of Martin Luther King, while Confederate military leaders were the only statues where a plurality, albeit by only one per cent, were in favour of their removal. Despite the broad opposition, a significant minority (20%) appeared willing to see all statues removed, irrespective of the values the figure held. Young, male respondents who said they are likely to vote for Biden appeared most likely to belong to this group.
These results appear to show more strongly held convictions among American respondents than in our polling in Britain last month. While the American public opposes the removal of practically all statues, respondents in Britain were more likely to take a more varied stance and pay more attention to the personalities they represented. The removal of statues of slave traders secured far more support (52%) than opposition (22%), but other historical figures received overwhelming backing, even if their views were regarded as outdated. For example, 66% were in favour of keeping Winston Churchill’s statue, even though his attitudes towards race split opinion. It therefore seems likely that Trump’s impassioned attacks on ‘cancel culture’ and defence of traditional national icons would receive a more receptive audience in the US.
On the whole, although Trump’s comments at Mount Rushmore have received both widespread praise and condemnation in the mainstream press, our research suggests that many members of the American public share his concerns with ‘cancel culture.’ Rather than generational divisions defining the debate, it is party identities than most strongly determine individual positions, with a notable quarter of likely Biden voters agreeing with unattributed statements from the President. However, as questions would frequently elicit responses of ‘neither support nor oppose’ or ‘don’t know,’ it also seems that public opinion is less certain, less familiar and perhaps more nuanced with this issue than has been portrayed.
 It is worth noting that the structure of our question in our British poll was different, with respondents being asked whether they would keep a certain statue where it is, place it in a museum or destroy it entirely.