A new survey finds Americans are divides about free speech and hate speech. (Public Domain Pictures)

A solid majority of Americans think political correctness has stifled the ability to talk openly about problems facing society, a new survey finds.

According to the Cato Institute, 71 percent of Americans “believe that political correctness has silenced important discussions our society needs to have.” Some 58 percent say they’re afraid to share their political beliefs with others.

The policy research organization found that of those who identify as Democrats, 53 percent say they don’t feel the need to keep their political views private. Among Republicans, some 73 percent said they did. For independents, it was 58 percent.

Nearly 6 in 10 Americans believe people should be allowed to express “unpopular” opinions in public even if others are offended. Some 40 percent said the government should take measures to prevent hate speech.

Defining hate speech, Cato found, meets with varied opinions. For example, 59 percent of liberals believe calling transgenderism a mental disorder is hate speech. Only 17 percent of conservatives agree. About 4 in 10 conservatives think calling a police officer a racist is hate speech, while only 17 percent of liberals agreed. Views were divided on other issues such as what to do about illegal immigrants, women in the military and gay rights, Cato found.

Majorities of African-Americans (59 percent), Hispanics (77 percent) and whites (87 percent) agree that it would be difficult to ban hate speech since there is no widely held view of what it is.

Nearly two-thirds of African-Americans think saying something racist is as bad as being racist. For Hispanics it was 61 percent and for whites, 34 percent.  Three quarters of African-Americans think “hate speech is an act of violence. That compares to 72 percent for Hispanics and 46 percent for whites.

All three groups, however, seem to agree by wide margins that “free speech ensures the truth will ultimately prevail,” with 68 percent of African-Americans agreeing, 70 percent of Hispanics and 66 percent of whites.

You can see the entire survey here.