Is cancel culture just a Republican talking point, a way for conservative voices to keep their followers enraged and, as such, engaged?

That’s the suggestion of HuffPost, which recently partnered with YouGov to conduct a poll on cancel culture, which is becoming a common theme in pop-culture news.

According to the poll, conducted the last week of January, slightly more than half of Americans — 52% — say they are familiar with the term, which describes efforts to shun, silence or demonetize people who express unpopular beliefs.

However, two-thirds of those who know the term say they are concerned about it, according to the HuffPost report, which called cancel culture a “new bogeyman” of the Republican Party and a “free speech-defeating monster lurking under the bed.”

 “Harry Potter” author J.K. Rowling was said to be “canceled” for expressing opinions that were seen as transphobic; actress Gina Carano, for expressing conservative opinions on social media; Chris Pratt, for attending an evangelical church and for suspicion of supporting former president Donald Trump. 

Trump himself used the term in a speech at Mount Rushmore and again at the Republican National Convention last year. And it’s not just the former president talking about it. A book on cancel culture, written by attorney Alan Dershowitz, was published last year, and another book on the subject is coming out in April.

Still, the poll suggests that a minority of Americans regularly talk about cancel culture themselves, and it’s mostly high-income people who do so. And there’s a deep partisan divide on the subject, especially when it comes to gauging the seriousness of the problem in the U.S.

Author J.K. Rowling poses for photographers upon arrival at the premiere of the film “Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald,” at a central London cinema on Tuesday, Nov. 13, 2018. | Joel C Ryan, Associated Press

How serious is the problem?

The online poll of 1,000 Americans, conducted Jan. 27-29, first asked respondents if they had ever heard of the term “cancel culture.” Fifty-two percent of all respondents said yes; 48% said no. Men were more likely than women to be familiar with the term, according to HuffPost.

When broken down by party, independents, Democrats and Republicans were roughly the same when asked if they’d heard of the term. (The numbers were 50%, 53% and 54%, respectively.) And when broken down by whether respondents voted for Trump or Joe Biden, the numbers were similar. Sixty-three percent of Trump voters had heard of cancel culture, compared to 60% of Biden voters.

But when asked how serious of a problem cancel culture is in the U.S., the parties diverged.

Fifty-seven percent of Republicans and 44% of independents said cancel culture is a very serious problem, compared to 11% of Democrats.

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As for who is most likely to be negatively affected by cancel culture, most respondents (44%) said conservatives. Nine percent said liberals, and 31% said both liberals and conservatives equally. 

Not surprisingly, the division was more pronounced when broken down by party. More than two-thirds of Republicans said conservatives are more likely to be negatively affected by cancel culture; 44% of independents and 26% of Democrats said that.

The survey, which had a margin of error of plus or minus 4.3%, also showed that knowledge of cancel culture rises with family income. More than three-quarters of people with the highest incomes (more than $100,000 annually) were familiar with cancel culture, as were 60% of people making $50,000 to $100,000. When family income fell below $50,000, so did familiarity with cancel culture, to 43%.

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Cancel or consequence?

In his book “Cancel Culture,” Dershowitz described cancel culture as “the new McCarthyism of the ‘woke’ generation.” Recent cases, however, have prompted conversation about whether cancel culture is a superfluous label for what in the past might be called accountability.

For example, Trump supporters were quick to say that the former president was being canceled by economic sanctions, to include the canceling of business contracts, after the Jan. 6 Capitol riot, which Trump was widely accused of inciting. The Senate acquitted him of the incitement charge at the close of Trump’s second impeachment trial during his term.

And in the case of Carano, recently fired from the Disney+ series “The Mandalorian,” the actress had survived a series of controversial social-media posts before she was let go after publishing an Instagram post comparing Jewish people being attacked in Nazi Germany to Americans being attacked for political beliefs.

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While the term “cancel culture” is relatively new, punishing bad behavior by removing financial support or incentives is not, Lawrence Glickman, professor of American studies in the Department of History at Cornell University and the author of “Free Enterprise: An American History,” told the Deseret News.

“This is one of the oldest forms of political activism in the United States, using the power of the purse to transform the political landscape,” Glickman said.

Still, the growth of social media has enabled a new sort of crowd-sourced punishment, and Twitter, in particularly, has been at the forefront of calls to cancel people. The campaign against Rowling was launched on Twitter after people expressed outrage to one of the author’s tweets.

The most prominent faces of cancel culture in 2020 were people associated with conservative values, which can explain the poll’s finding that a majority of conservatives and independents say conservatives are most affected. (Even one-quarter of liberals said that.)

Concern about cancel culture has even prompted one Republican California state lawmaker to propose a bill that would make a person’s political affiliation protected under anti-discrimination laws, joining race, gender and religion.

While cancel culture may be a pressing issue only among conservatives right now, that could change in April when a new book by Dan Kovalik comes out. It’s called “Cancel This Book” and in it, Kovalik promises to make “the progressive case against cancel culture.”

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