Recent polling tells the grim story of the underlying fear many Americans express about our government. For the first time since September 11, 2001, Americans are more fearful their government will abuse constitutional liberties than fail to keep its citizens safe.
Even in the wake of the April 15 Boston Marathon bombings, in which a pair of radical Islamic jihadist brothers are accused of planting explosives that took the lives of 3 and wounded over 200 — two distinct polls indicate Americans are unwilling to give up any further freedoms in exchange for promises of increased “security.”
This Fox News poll of a random sample of 619 registered voters the day after the Boston bombings found interviewees responded very differently than following 9/11 in which nearly 3000 lost their lives. For the first time since a similar question was asked in May 2001, more Americans answered “no” to the question: “Would you be willing to give up some of your personal freedom in order to reduce the threat of terrorism?”
Of those surveyed on April 16, 2013, 45% answered “no” to the question, compared to 43% answering “yes.” In May 2001, before 9/11, 40 percent answered “no” while 33% answered “yes.”
Following the terrorist attacks of 9/11, there was a dramatic reversal as 71% of Americans agreed to sacrifice personal freedom to reduce the threat of terrorism. Subsequent polls asking the same question in 2002, 2005 and 2006 found Americans consistently willing to give up freedom in exchange for security. There was a marked decline from 71% following 9/11 to only 54% by May 2006.
Today it appears the sentiment expressed in Benjamin Franklin’s famous quote — “They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety” — is more valued by Americans than it has been in over a dozen years.
This Washington Post survey, using a similar polling sample of 588 adults, conducted April 17 and 18 also discovered the change in attitude. “Which worries you more,” the Post asked, “that the government will not go far enough to investigate terrorism because of concerns about constitutional rights, or that it will go too far in compromising constitutional rights in order to investigate terrorism?”
The poll found 48% of respondents worry the government will go too far, compared to 41% who worry it won’t go far enough.
And similar to the Fox News poll, the Post found the worry to be a new development. Only 44% worried the government would go too far in January 2006 and only 27% expressed such concerns about governmental overreaches in January 2010.
The Fox News poll broke the responses down further by political affiliation:
A troubling 51% of Democrats responded they would forfeit personal freedom to reduce the threat of terror, compared to 36% who opposed the concept.
Forty-seven percent of Republicans opposed giving up freedoms, compared to only 43% in favor.
Independents were the most resistant, with only 29% willing to sacrifice freedom, while 58% opposed losing constitutional rights.