State GOP leaders have enacted laws or pushed for banning children from accessing certain books in school classrooms and libraries, and polling shows banning books is popular among Republicans. But the issue could come back to haunt the GOP in the 2024 general election, with book bans remain unpopular with the general electorate.

According to a recent survey from YouGov, which polled 1,000 adult American citizens and had a standard deviation of ±3.5%, the majority of Republican respondents — 58% — said that there’s a time and place for public school classrooms or school libraries to ban books or novels.

The survey comes months after Florida’s Republican-led legislature passed three high-profile laws in 2022, leading some public school classrooms to temporarily shutter their libraries as a select few media specialists have been tasked with reviewing tens of thousands of books to ensure they’re age-appropriate.

And in Texas, school administrators in at least 20 school districts banned more than 800 books, the vast majority of which pertain to sexuality or race, with many of the bans arising after former state Rep. Matt Krause sent an inquiry to each school district to see if they had copies of the books in question.

Independents don’t like book bans. Democrats despise them.

And while most Republicans polled were in favor of banning books, their Democratic and Independent counterparts were not — nearly half of all Democrats polled by YouGov were against banning books from school libraries for any reason.

In its polling, YouGov also surveyed to see which topics people thought should be banned from classrooms. While there were five topics a majority of Republican respondents said should be banned, there wasn’t a single topic in the survey that a majority of Independents or Democrats thought should be restricted.

Winning elections often, in part, comes down to swaying enough Independent voters, who appear to be split on the topic. When asked if there’s ever a time when a book or novel should be banned from public school classrooms or school libraries, 40% of Independents answered “yes,” 34% said “no,” and just over a quarter were unsure.

As an electoral play, banning books is a risky strategy

Choosing to restrict students’ access to certain books, as some Republican-led legislatures and school districts have done, is a calculated choice by GOP leaders to appeal to their bases.

According to YouGov polling, 67% of respondents who voted for President Donald Trump in 2020 said they approved of banning books. It would make sense, then, for potential 2024 Republican presidential hopefuls — like Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis — to latch onto this issue, as he has.

“In Florida, we will not let the far-left woke agenda take over our schools and workplaces,” DeSantis said in a press release after signing Florida House Bill 7. “There is no place for indoctrination or discrimination in Florida.”

Taking such a strong, controversial stance may very well help candidates court large swathes of Republicans trying to separate themselves from the pack in a primary election. But it has high potential to backfire come the general election when stray Independent and Democratic voters must also be swayed.

High-ranking Democrats have already begun to seize upon the wave of book restrictions as a wedge issue to cleave off the elements of the GOP who do not back book bans and see them as an obvious violation of First Amendment rights.

Rep. Jamie Raskin was among a group of Democrats who introduced a resolution in the 117th Congress condemning book bans, highlighting their consequences, and “urging recognition of the illegitimate tactics being used to ban books in K–12 classrooms, universities, prisons, and libraries.”

President Joe Biden aligned himself against the practice in April 2022 in a speech at the National and State Teachers of the Year award ceremony.

“Today, there are too many politicians trying to score political points, trying to ban books — even math books,” Biden said. “Did you ever think when you were teaching, you’d be worrying about book burning and banning books all because it doesn’t fit someone’s political agenda?”

Candidates overreaching during a primary to pander to their base and forcing themselves into an untenable position for the general election is one of the oldest stories in the book. Perhaps the GOP would have realized that — had they not banned it.