TIME/CNN Poll Shows Increasing Number Of Americans Won't Give Up Civil Liberties To Fight Terrorism

06/05/2013 23:21
 

When discussing NYPD Police Chief Ray Kelly's assertion that "privacy is off the table" as a result of the Boston bombing, I mentioned I hadn't heard any public outcry demanding the government and law enforcement step in and do something (i.e., curtail civil liberties) in response to the tragedy. The responses we were seeing seemed to be nothing more than legislators and law enforcement officials pushing their own agendas.

This isn't just me not hearing what I don't want to hear. There's actual data available that explains the lack of concerned noises from Americans. A CNN/TIME poll shows that nearly two-thirds of Americans aren't interested in sacrificing rights to combat terrorism.

When given a choice, 61 percent of Americans say they are more concerned about the government enacting new anti-terrorism policies that restrict civil liberties, compared to 31 percent who say they are more concerned about the government failing to enact strong new anti-terrorism policies.

This is a vast improvement over 1996, when a post-Atlanta Olympics bombing poll showed only 23% opposed giving up freedom in exchange for fighting terrorism.

Breaking it down further,
the poll also shows a bit of split along party lines. Self-identified Democrats are most likely to put their faith in government/law enforcement to make the U.S. "safer" by curtailing freedoms (51%). Republicans are less likely to favor this exchange (41%). For independents, less than a third (32%) are willing to give up some freedom to combat terrorism.

There is a
bit of bad news contained within this generally positive indicator that Americans are less willing to give up something of theirs in exchange for the vagaries of "safety." The percentage of respondents who support additional surveillance in public areas has increased to 81% from 63% the week after the 9/11 attacks. On the other hand, there's a growing reluctance among Americans to allow the government to expand its surveillance efforts to cover more private venues, like email or cell phones. Only 38% approve of these efforts, down from 54% after 9/11.

Now, when legislators and law enforcement reps make strides towards reducing civil liberties, they do have some support. Those over the age of 50 (across all political parties) are most likely to support a loss of freedom (50%, as compared to only 34% for those under 50). Tellingly, this is pretty much the same demographic that feels video games are a bigger "safety threat" than guns (72% of respondents over the age of 45).

Unfortunately for the under-50 crowd, the over-50 demographic is historially the most active at the polls. If this perception of widespread support for invasive policies and legislation is going to change, the under-50 demographic is going to need to do a whole lot more voting. If not, these politicians are going to be able to truthfullysay they have support for these policies -- at least, the only support that matters: die-hard voters.

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