Newswise — A majority of Republicans believe professional athletes should stay out of politics and causes, with a sizable portion saying it is completely inappropriate for them to do so, according to a new national poll conducted for the University of Delaware’s Center for Political Communication.
More than 40% of Republicans say it is "not at all appropriate" for professional athletes to speak out about political issues or causes, compared to approximately 5% of Democrats. At the same time, nearly 60% of Democrats say such speech is "very appropriate," with just over 8% of Republicans saying so. Independents are more evenly distributed across the scale.
The national poll, conducted by RABA Research, comes just weeks after conservative FOX News host Laura Ingraham rebuked LeBron James for "talking politics" and said, "Keep the political comments to yourselves ... Shut up and dribble."
More recently, the Sacramento Kings players and owner have spoken out publicly about the fatal police shooting of 22-year old Stephon Clark, followed by the joint release of a PSA with the Boston Celtics calling for "accountability."
"What we are witnessing is a divide in terms of how Americans think about political speech — in particular, who gets to speak," says Dr. Dannagal Young, Associate Professor of Communication at the University of Delaware.
"Part of this divide stems from the fact that celebrities and athletes tend to speak out for liberal causes. In addition, liberals have a history of political expression in non-political realms dating back to the music, art, and activism of the 1960s counterculture. Hence, it is unsurprising that we find more support for celebrity political expression among Democrats than Republicans."
These divides are further exemplified in responses to the prompt, "Professional athletes are paid to play the game, not share their political opinion." While nearly 25% of Democrats strongly agreed with this statement, a majority — 79% — of Republicans strongly agreed.
A similar pattern emerged when respondents were asked whether such speech constitutes First Amendment rights when celebrities speak out about politics. Among Democrats, 57.2% said they strongly agreed with the statement, "When celebrities speak out about politics, they are exercising their First Amendment rights," compared with 17.6% of Republicans.
607 interviews among American adults were conducted March 21-22, 2018 via online interviews. The results were weighted to ensure proportional response. Margin of error for these results is +/-4.1%. Party ID was recoded to three categories for graphic purposes (Democrats = 298; Independents = 127; and Republicans = 182). For questions on methodology, please email: firstname.lastname@example.org or call 917-685-4819. The National Agenda Opinion Project research is funded by the University of Delaware's nonpartisan Center for Political Communication (CPC). The study was supervised by the CPC's Associate Director, Lindsay Hoffman (Associate Professor), Dannagal Young (Associate Professor), and Phil Jones (Associate Professor) in the Departments of Communication and Political Science & International Relations.