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N.J. residents more worried by book bans than controversial school lessons, poll says

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N.J. residents more worried by book bans than controversial school lessons, poll says

Feb 26, 2024 | 7:03 am ET
By Nikita Biryukov
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N.J. residents more worried by book bans than controversial school lessons, poll says
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The poll was conducted in mid-December, prior to the introduction of a new bill targeting book bans at school libraries. (Dana DiFilippo | New Jersey Monitor)

A new poll finds that a steep majority of New Jersey adults are more concerned about efforts to ban books and censor certain topics in school lessons than they are with schools teaching books and topics that some might find offensive.

Fifty-eight percent of respondents told pollsters at Rutgers University’s Eagleton Center for Public Interest Polling they are more worried about book and topic bans, compared to 35% who said classroom content is the larger worry. 

The result was fairly consistent across demographic groups, and Republicans were the only group in which a majority, 67%, said school lesson content is the bigger issue.

“Republicans are kind of standing alone on these issues as opposed to essentially every other demographic,” said Ashley Koning, the poll’s director.

The poll, which was conducted in mid-December prior to the introduction of a new bill targeting book bans at school libraries, has other findings that could throw cold water on culture issues Republicans have sought to leverage in state and local races in recent years.

Most respondents, 56%, said recent efforts seen nationally to ban books and limit school lessons on LGBTQ+ issues and race are driven mostly by politicians’ ambitions rather than parents’ concerns (31%).

Even Republicans are not convinced that the moves are a response to constituents’ worries. Though 43% said parental fears are the main driver, 44% said political ambitions are.

“I think we saw that, in the 2023 legislative races, these kinds of culture wars issues weren’t really fueling the fire for voters to get them to turn out and, I think, kind of backfired on a lot of the Republican candidates who used them,” Koning said.

Republicans last year fought to chip away at Democrats’ control of the Legislature but were met with disappointment on Election Day after Democrats instead flipped six Assembly seats, entirely erasing gains the GOP made in the lower chamber in 2021.

According to the new poll, all other demographic groups — cross sections that include age, income, gender, geographic region, and education achievement, among others — agreed political advancement is the chief motivator behind efforts to take books off the shelves of school libraries and limit instruction on certain topics in the classroom.

Anemic support for book bans and cynical views about lawmakers’ motivations among independent voters may be the poll’s most troubling finding for Republicans who have leaned into culture issues.

Unaffiliated voters said book bans and school censorship are the more pressing issues by a 20-point margin, 56% to 36%. They are similarly skeptical about the driver behind those efforts, with 52% believing they are made to win political advancement, compared to 33% who said they are born of parental concerns.

“Sometimes, the loudest voices we hear and the strongest voices we hear don’t necessarily reflect the majority,” said Koning. “And I think this is one of those kinds of instances where when we look at public opinion in a representative, scientific way, we’re hearing a different story.”