Since 1994 people convicted of federal crimes motivated by the ‘actual or perceived’ identity of victims have faced tougher sentences. Many other states had passed ‘hate crime’ statutes in earlier years, and in recent years many states have been adopting laws which make crimes motivated by the victim’s sexual orientation of gender identity hate crimes which face tougher sentences, something the federal government did in 2009. Unlike much of the rest of the developed world, however, the United States does not make it a criminal offense for people to make statements which encourage hatred of particular groups. For example a prominent British columnist, Katie Hopkins, is being investigated by the police for referring to African migrants crossing the Mediterranean as ‘cockroaches’.
YouGov’s latest research shows that many Americans support making it a criminal offense to make public statements which would stir up hatred against particular groups of people. Americans narrowly support (41%) rather than oppose (37%) criminalizing hate speech, but this conceals a partisan divide. Most Democrats (51%) support criminalizing hate speech, with only 26% opposed. Independents (41% to 35%) and Republicans (47% to 37%) tend to oppose making it illegal to stir up hatred against particular groups.