Aside from bans, majority of adults polled think laws against LGBTQ and race issues in the classroom are politically driven

As debate over the “Freedom to Read” Act that would counter book ban efforts heats up, New Jersey has already taken sides, with a majority of adults in the state saying they are concerned about book bans and the political motivation behind them, according to the latest Rutgers-Eagleton Poll.

When polled in December and asked to choose which concerns them more about schools today, 58 percent of residents say they are more concerned that some schools may ban books and censor topics that are educationally important, while 35 percent say they are more concerned that some schools may teach books and topics that some students or their parents feel are inappropriate or offensive; 8 percent are unsure.

The breakdown in views is similar when it comes to recent laws throughout the United States banning books or making it illegal for teachers to talk about LGBTQ or racial issues. Fifty-six percent believe these measures are mostly being driven by politicians to advance their careers, while 31 percent say they are mostly being driven by parents' concerns; 13 percent are unsure.

“When we assess views in a scientific and representative way, public opinion on this issue shows – like many other topics – that the loudest voices do not necessarily represent the majority,” said Ashley Koning, an assistant research professor and director of the Eagleton Center for Public Interest Polling (ECPIP) at Rutgers University–New Brunswick. “These results are further proof following the 2023 legislative races that pro-book ban politics does not play well with a majority of New Jerseyans.”

More than half of every demographic is more concerned about book bans than inappropriate content, with the exception of 35- to 49-year-olds (50 percent), those who don’t identify as or know someone who is transgender (50 percent) and Republicans (27 percent).

Self-identified Republicans are the only group where a majority is more concerned about content (67 percent) than censorship or banning books. Democrats, on the other hand, are especially concerned about banning books and topics that are educationally important (79 percent). Black residents (67 percent) and white residents (60 percent) are more likely than Hispanic or Latino residents (52 percent) to be concerned about book banning. Those who identify as LGBQ+ (74 percent) and those who either are or know someone who is transgender (67 percent) are also more likely than their counterparts to express concern over banning educationally important books.

Views on whether laws banning books or legislation against LGBTQ and race issues in schools are politically motivated follow similar demographic patterns. Once again, more than half of every demographic believes these attempts are politically motivated, with the exception of Republicans. But on this particular question, Republicans are split: 44 percent feel they are politically motivated, while 43 percent believe these types of laws are being driven by real parental concern.

“Book banning proponents do not even have a solid plurality of Republicans on their side when it comes to whether book bans are motivated by real parental concern, indicating a weakness in strategy even among those who are most supportive of the concept,” said Jessica Roman, a research associate at ECPIP.

Results are from a statewide poll of 1,657 adults contacted through multiple modes, including by live interviewer on landline and cell phone, MMS text invitation to web, and the probability-based Rutgers-Eagleton/SSRS Garden State Panel from Dec. 13 to Dec. 23. The full sample has a margin of error of +/- 2.8 percentage points. The registered voter subsample contains 1,451 registered voters and has a margin of error of +/- 3.0 percentage points.

Note: This poll was conducted before NJ S2421 was introduced in the New Jersey State Senate.