Fox Poll Suggests Book Bans May Not Be as Winning an Issue as Republicans Think

New polling suggests that Americans are more concerned about books being banned than they are about what their children are taught in school.

AP/Rick Bowmer, file
A pile of challenged books appear at the Utah Pride Center at Salt Lake City Utah. AP/Rick Bowmer, file

In an ominous sign for Republicans hanging their hat on education as a campaign issue, a new poll shows that Americans are more concerned about book bans than the border, the banking system, or the war in Ukraine.

Last year, as Governor DeSantis signed a law that would require school libraries to put books through a strict vetting process, the Florida senate president, Wilton Simpson, celebrated it as a win for parents.

“Florida parents are seeking greater involvement in many aspects of our education system, and this legislation speaks to that effort,” Mr. Simpson said. “The books our kids are reading in schools need to have proper vetting.”

A year later, new polling from Fox News, Beacon Research, and Shaw and Company Research is showing that the strict regulations put on what books are allowed in the classroom might not be as popular as some Republicans thought.

In a survey of 1,007 registered voters, the poll found that 71 percent of respondents reported feeling concerned about “book banning by local school boards,” with 39 percent saying they were “extremely concerned.”

The issue tied with “the amount you pay in taxes” as being the fourth most prominent issue in the poll, beating out “gun laws” and “border security,” all of which were cause for concern among 69 percent of respondents.

The issue also outpaces concern over “what’s taught in public schools,” an issue that 69 percent of respondents also pointed toward.

Democrats across the country have organized against the book bans and have criticized them as further marginalizing the voices of sexual and gender minorities and people of color. One vocal opponent of such bans is California’s governor, Gavin Newsom, who visited Florida Wednesday.

“Met with some librarians today while in Florida,” Mr. Newsom said in a tweet. “They shared with me the rich, diverse background of the town and what’s at stake if we ban our kids from learning our real history.”

Although the margin between the concern over book bans and public school curricula was well within the margin of error of plus or minus eight points, the results suggest the education-centric messaging Republicans have been pushing in states like Florida or Virginia may not be a slam dunk on the national stage.

Education issues have taken a more prominent than usual position in national politics since the pandemic, when school closures sparked outrage among some parents. In 2021, Governor Youngkin delivered a resounding win for Republicans in Virginia, riding a wave of parental discontent ushered in by the school closures to the governor’s office.

Other governors, such as Mr. DeSantis, have risen to prominence with signature education policies, like Florida’s so-called Don’t Say Gay law that bans discussion of sexuality, gender, and sexual orientation in the classroom up to third grade.

The law, officially titled the Parental Rights in Education Act, was passed in March 2022, and empowers parents to file legal challenges against schools over what books are available to students.

Another Florida law passed last year, HB 1467, requires school librarians and other media specialists to undergo training to ensure library books are “appropriate for the grade level and age group for which the materials are used and made available.”

The law also explicitly prohibits books with visual or verbal descriptions of sex or sexual conduct and other material “that is harmful to minors.” According to a Florida education department presentation on the topic, “harmful to minors” is to be interpreted as any material with a “prurient, shameful, or morbid interest.”

Those found in violation of these laws are liable to be charged with a third-degree felony in Florida. The vague rules, alongside the steep punishment for violating them, has led to books being removed from Florida schools.

Currently, Florida school officials are working on “cataloging” books to determine whether they comply with the new regulation, creating a whitelist of approved books.

Although Florida has attracted the most attention for its new education policy, Texas is the state with the most book bans, according to a report from PEN America.

Florida, Pennsylvania, and Tennessee have also banned hundreds of books, with 32 states having at least some books banned in schools, according to the report.

According to PEN America’s Index of School Book Bans, 41 percent of the banned books concern LGBTQ issues or prominently feature a LGBTQ character, 40 percent prominently feature a character of color, 22 percent contain sexual content, and 21 percent are concerned with issues of race and racism.

The New York Sun

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