November 18, 2015

Global Support for Principle of Free Expression, but Opposition to Some Forms of Speech

Appendix A: Free Expression Index

U.S. Most Supportive of Free Expression, Senegal LeastTo explore how countries compare on attitudes about free expression, we developed an additive free expression index. The index combines responses for eight survey questions that ask about whether certain types of speech and press should be censored.

Of the questions included in the index, five questions ask about free speech, including whether people should be allowed to make public statements that criticize the government’s policies, are offensive to minority groups, call for violent protests, are offensive to their religion or beliefs or are sexually explicit. Three questions ask about free press, including whether media organizations should be allowed to publish information about large political protests in that country, sensitive issues related to national security or economic issues that might destabilize the country’s economy.

Responses for each of the eight questions are dichotomous (0 or 1), where 1 indicates support for allowing free speech or press in a particular situation and 0 indicates support for government restrictions on free expression in some circumstances. For instance, those who believe people should be allowed to publicly make statements that are offensive to minorities are coded as a 1, while those who say such statements should be prohibited by the government are coded as a 0. Similarly, those who say media organizations should be able to publish information about large political protests in their country are coded as a 1, while those who disagree are coded as a 0. The responses for the eight questions are added together for an index ranging from 0 to 8, where 0 is the least supportive of civil liberties and 8 is the most supportive.

Index scores are only calculated for respondents who gave substantive answers to all eight questions, comprising a large sub-sample of the total sample (n=32,349). Those who replied “Don’t know/Refused” on any of the eight questions were not included in the index. The question about whether people should be allowed to make sexually explicit statements publicly was not asked in Malaysia. Consequently, no index score was calculated for that country. The alpha coefficient for the index was 0.73.

We report the mean score for each country in our analysis. On a scale of 0 to 8, index scores range between 2.06 in Senegal and 5.73 in the United States, with an overall average of 4.07 for all valid responses.