New poll shows how Americans think about topics before the U.S. Supreme Court

Currently facing the Supreme Court is a rash of issues that deal with freedom of expression. For example, if someone makes threatening remarks via social media, does that constitute the same thing as making threatening remarks face to face? Can states ban license plates with offensive materials? Can towns allow large temporary political signs but restrict the size of signage for other purposes?

In a national sample of 1,022 adults, results of the Saint Leo University Polling Institute poll believe that freedom of speech is protected except in cases where threatening remarks are being made. Not every respondent answered each question.

A man who posted song lyrics on Facebook such as, “There’s one way to love you but a thousand ways to kill you. I’m not going to rest until your body is a mess, soaked in blood and dying from all the little cuts,” was arrested, convicted, and jailed on charges of threatening his estranged wife. Did his social media post of song lyrics rise to the level of a criminal threat?

50% Yes, he threatened her criminally
29% No, his threats did not rise to a crime
22% Don’t know / unsure


A majority of respondents said the Facebook post constituted a threat. Frank Orlando, instructor of political science at Saint Leo University, says that this result shows changing views of social media’s role in society.

“The proliferation of social media has caused us to become less naïve on social media,” Orlando said. “Online communications are monitored by friends, law enforcement, etc., and people know that the stuff they post is in the public domain.”

One cause of this shift is that, as online communication becomes more prevalent, we are starting to view online actions in the same way that we view actions in the real world.

“This kind of communication is replacing a lot of other established forms of communication,” stated Orlando. “For example, we see cyberbullying as equivalent to real-world bullying. Posting something on social media has consequences, and it’s not just a free-for-all place anymore. It’s being used by people of all age groups, and as it becomes further mainstream, you’ll see the demand for more monitoring grow.”

Even though respondents said the Facebook post constituted a criminal threat, respondents favored free speech in other decisions. The poll asked:

Do states have the right to ban certain special license plates, such as those that include an image of a Confederate flag, or do such license plates represent free speech that is protected by the Constitution?

39% States should be allowed to ban certain license plates
51% License plates are a type of free speech that is protected by the Constitution
11% Don’t know / unsure


The majority of respondents do not believe states have the right to ban certain special plates because they are protected by the First Amendment.

Another major case the survey asked about was about a state’s right to ban gay marriage. The poll asked:

Do you think states should be allowed to ban same-sex marriage, or that gay and lesbian couples have a constitutional right to marry?

37% States should be allowed to ban same-sex marriage 40% 34% 64% 29% 23%
53% Gay and lesbian couples have a constitutional right to marry 48% 58% 29% 60% 66%
10% Don’t know / unsure 11% 9% 7% 11% 11%
N= 518 502 288 337 318


Respondents were broken down by gender and by political party. Though an overall majority said gay marriage was a constitutional right, a majority of Republican respondents—64 percent—said states had a right to ban it, compared with 29 percent of Independents and 23 percent of Democrats.

But Saint Leo’s Orlando notes that while the Republican party once campaigned on the issue of restricting gay marriage, now, Republican politicians hesitate to discuss the issue, as public opinion overall has shifted.

In April, the Supreme Court heard a case about the constitutionality of lethal injection, the process for how many states implement the death penalty. However, in recent months, there have been instances where states have botched lethal injection executions.

Execution by lethal injection involves using a drug that makes the condemned prisoner unconscious before other, lethal drugs are administered. There have been instances in which the first drug has not worked the way it is meant to. Which of the following comes closest to your view?                                         

19% The death penalty is cruel and unusual punishment and unconstitutional in all cases regardless of method of execution 20% 18% 10% 19% 28%
15% Execution by lethal injection is cruel and unusual punishment and unconstitutional because it has been unreliable, but other methods of execution are constitutionally allowable 16% 13% 14% 15% 17%
53% Execution by lethal injection is not cruel and unusual punishment and is allowed by the Constitution 52% 53% 67% 53% 42%
13% Don’t know / unsure 11% 15% 8% 13% 14%
N= 518 502 288 337 318


In Arizona, some residents want all temporary signage to be the same size. Some church groups complained when their signage was restricted by 6 square feet, yet political signs can be as large as 32 feet.

A town in Arizona allows temporary political signs as large as 32 square feet in size, but temporary signs put up by a church directing people to services can only be up to 6 square feet in size. Does a town have the right to allow different-sized signs for different types of things, or should a town be required to treat all signs the same?

61% Towns should be required to treat all signs the same
28% Towns should be allowed to have different rules for different kinds of sign
11% Don’t know / unsure


Lastly, the poll asked about a case dealing with religious exemptions in the workplace:

Should it be legal for a clothing retailer to not hire a female job applicant because she wears a headscarf as part of observing her religion?

24% Yes
66% No
10% Don’t know / unsure


This question was based on a Supreme Court case that was recently decided, and most respondents were aligned with the court’s ruling: 66 percent of respondents and the Supreme Court justices all agreed the retailer did not have the right to deny her application for this reason.

To view the Saint Leo University Polling Institute’s survey results about national and Florida politics, public policy issues, Pope Francis’ popularity, and other topics, visit the polling institute’s website, You can also follow the institute on Twitter @saintleopolls. Saint Leo’s main website is

About the Saint Leo University Polling Institute/Methodology

The Polling Institute polled 1,022 adult citizens nationally between May 25 and 31, 2015. The margin of error is +/- 3 percent with a 95 percent level of confidence.

The Saint Leo University Polling Institute conducts its surveys using cutting-edge online methodology, which is rapidly transforming the field of survey research. Sample is drawn from large online panels, which allow for random selections that reflect accurate cross sections of all demographic groups. Online methodology has the additional advantage of allowing participants to respond to the survey at a time, place, and speed convenient to them, which may result in more thoughtful answers. The Saint Leo University Polling Institute develops the questionnaires, administers the surveys, and conducts analysis of the results. Panel participants typically receive a token incentive–usually 50 cents deposited into an iTunes or Amazon account–for their participation.

Full Survey Results

The Saint Leo University Polling Institute has posted full results in table form here.

About Saint Leo University

Saint Leo University is a regionally accredited, liberal-arts-based institution known for an inclusive Catholic heritage, enduring values, and capacity for innovation. The school was chartered in 1889 by Catholic Benedictine monks in rural Pasco County, FL, making Saint Leo the first Catholic college in the state. Saint Leo provides access to education to people of all faiths, emphasizing the Benedictine philosophy of balanced growth of mind, body, and spirit.

The university welcomes learners from all generations and backgrounds, from civilian occupations and the armed forces, and from across the country and more than 60 nations around the world. Saint Leo’s 16,000 undergraduate and graduate students may elect to study at the beautiful University Campus in Florida, at more than 40 teaching locations in seven states, or online from other locations. The university’s degree programs range from the associate to the doctorate. Throughout these rich offerings, Saint Leo develops principled leaders for a challenging world.

Saint Leo University boasts nearly 80,000 alumni in all 50 states, Washington, DC, five U.S. territories, and 72 countries.

Media Contacts: Kim Payne, staff writer and media coordinator, at or (352) 588-7233/(717) 798-1508 or Jo-Ann Johnston, academic communications manager, at or (352) 588-8237/(352) 467-0843.