Iowa Poll Finds Consensus that new book ban laws for public schools are excessive

© Copyright 2024, Des Moines Register and Tribune Co. 

According to a recent Iowa Poll by Des Moines Register/Mediacom, 50% of Iowans are of the opinion that the new book ban law, responsible for the removal of over a thousand books from public schools, is overly restrictive. Meanwhile, 30% consider the law and subsequent removals to be “just right.”

The survey also revealed that 13% of respondents believe the measures do not go far enough, with 3% remaining uncertain.

In May 2023, Governor Kim Reynolds signed Senate File 496, a comprehensive education law that prohibits the inclusion of nearly all books depicting sexual acts in public schools, among other provisions. Notably, the law provides exceptions for religious texts. 

The Iowa Poll questioned participants on their views regarding “Iowa’s new law requiring schools to ban books depicting sex acts.” This law has led to the removal of more than 1,300 books from Iowa’s public schools.

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As of mid-February, The Des Moines Register had verified the removal of 1,300 books due to the law. However, recent updates indicate that approximately 1,820 books, including 615 unique titles, have been taken out of schools since the law’s implementation on July 1.

While two lawsuits are in progress, a federal judge has halted the enforcement of the book ban by the state.

The survey conducted by Selzer & Co. involved 804 Iowa adults between Feb. 25-28 and carries a margin of error of +/- 3.5 percentage points.

Michelle Leaverton, an Urbandale resident, criticized the book bans as “absurd,” mentioning the negative impact on children’s reading choices and the representation of various perspectives, particularly for LGBTQ individuals like her own children.

Expressing dismay at the removal of classic novels such as George Orwell’s “1984” and “Animal Farm,” Leaverton believes the law exacerbates the marginalization of LGBTQ voices and other underrepresented communities.

Parents in Iowa with children under 18 were more divided on the issue, with 39% considering the law too restrictive, 40% finding it appropriate, and 16% advocating for further measures. 5% of parents were unsure of their stance.

Tracy Alberts, an independent voter from Cedar Rapids, expressed support for parental decision-making over school library content but added that sexual and political content should be excluded from school materials.

Divergent Perspectives Based on Political Affiliation and Gender

The survey reveals stark contrasts among political party affiliations and gender regarding the book ban and removals. While 75% of Democrats and 55% of Independents believe the measures are overly restrictive, 44% of Republicans view the situation as appropriate. Additionally, 23% of Republicans feel that the current actions do not go far enough.

Gender-wise, 60% of women perceive the law and book removals as excessively stringent, in contrast to 41% of men.

Steven Davies, a 54-year-old Republican from Corning, expressed mixed feelings about the book bans, acknowledging the necessity to remove certain materials but also recognizing the complexities of censorship.

Highlighting the controversial LGBTQ memoir “Gender Queer,” Davies questioned the criteria for determining banned books and the potential for subjective judgment.

Recent years witnessed streams of challenges against books perceived as inappropriate for students, drawing the attention of lawmakers and resulting in the legislation in Iowa.

Before the enactment of the book ban, 99 challenges were documented by The Des Moines Register, with nearly 90% of Iowa schools reporting no conflicts.

The challenges predominantly focused on sexual content, profanity, and violence, with LGBTQ-themed books among the most contested.

Noteworthy figures challenged before the ban included LGBTQ coming-of-age memoirs and novels featuring people of color and survivors of sexual violence.

Advocacy and Legal Battles Surrounding the Book Ban

Conservative activists, backed by groups like Moms for Liberty, influenced the Iowa Legislature, criticizing the existing book challenge process for being complex, subjective, and unresponsive.

The law, operational from July 2023, demands age-appropriate literature in schools and prohibits sexual content in books. It also restricts gender identity and sexual orientation discussions before sixth grade. 

The aftermath has been inconsistent, with some districts removing numerous books to comply while others executed no changes. The actual removals totaled over 1,300 books, including contentious LGBTQ memoirs and acclaimed novels.

The three most-banned books were “Nineteen Minutes,” “Looking for Alaska,” and “The Perks of Being a Wallflower.”

Jodi Picoult's Nineteen Minutes.

LGBTQ communities, authors affected by the bans, and advocacy groups have initiated legal action against Iowa regarding the book ban, denouncing it as unconstitutional censorship.  

Ongoing Legal Challenges and Book Restoration

Judge Stephen Locher interceded with a temporary block on enforcing the book ban and penalties against educators pending legal proceedings. Certain districts have reinstated books, while others have kept them off shelves.  

Proponents argue that the law safeguards children from inappropriate content, while opponents claim it deprives students of diverse perspectives and conflates literature with immoral material.

Chris Higgins covers the eastern and northern suburbs for the Register. Reach him or 515-423-5146 and follow him on Twitter@chris_higgins_. 

Samantha Hernandez covers education for the Register. Reach her at (515) 851-0982 or Follow her on Twitter@svhernandez or Facebook 

Insights into the Iowa Poll 

Conducted between Feb. 25-28, 2024, by Selzer & Co. on behalf of The Des Moines Register and Mediacom, the Iowa Poll involved telephone interviews with 804 Iowans aged 18 or older, with a margin of error of +/- 3.5 percentage points.

The survey results offer a comprehensive overview of public opinion, scrutinizing the impact of book bans and removals in the educational landscape.   

Republishing the copyright Iowa Poll without credit and, on digital platforms, links to originating content on The Des Moines Register and Mediacom is prohibited.   

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