According to a new Pew Research Center poll, the majority of Americans say the federal government threatens their personal rights.
The poll, conducted from Jan. 9th-13th among 1,500 adults, found that 53% of those surveyed think the federal government threatens their own personal rights and freedoms, the highest level found since Pew began polling on this subject in 1995. This outcome also represents the first time since Pew began polling that a majority of Americans saw the government as a threat. In March of 2010, 47% of those polled said that they viewed government as a threat to freedom.
The latest Pew survey also included questions about gun laws. Not surprisingly, given the current national controversy about gun control and Second Amendment rights, 62% of gun owners believe that the federal government poses a fundamental threat to their constitutional rights and freedom.
In addition, the survey found that, over the past two years, the percentage of conservative Republicans who view the government as a threat to freedom has jumped from 62% to 76%. 54% of conservatives consider government to be a “major threat” to their constitutional rights.
Also not surprising are the views of liberal Democrats, as expressed through the Pew poll. During President George W. Bush’s second term, 44% of liberal Democrats said they were “angry” at the federal government, yet in the latest survey, that number has dropped to 8%.
Another interesting aspect of the poll was how it teased out some of the issues Americans have with Congress. While many polls simply ask participants to rate Congress’ job performance (the most recent Rasmussen poll gives Congress a 9% job performance approval rating), the Pew poll asked questions that attempted to differentiate the institution of Congress as a political structure from the members of the nation’s legislative branch.
Results showed that, when asked if the current problem with Congress is a broken political system, or the members themselves, most of those surveyed pointed to the lawmakers. 56% said that the political system works fine, but that the members of Congress are the problem. Only 32% said that lawmakers have good intentions and that the political system is broken. Virtually identical majorities of Republicans (58%), Democrats (57%) and Independents (56%) said that lawmakers, rather than the political system, are the problem with Congress.
This outcome is encouraging in that it appears that, across party representation, Americans have faith in the political system designed by the nation’s founders. Also, they are, albeit slowly, becoming increasingly attuned to exactly who will be representing them in Congress.