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Confidence in American liberty plunging

Posted By Bob Unruh On 07/24/2009 @ 11:45 pm In Front Page | Comments Disabled

Editor’s note: This is another in a series of monthly “Freedom Index” polls conducted exclusively for WND by the public opinion research and media consulting company Wenzel Strategies.

A new poll reveals that between June and this month the number of Americans who believe President Obama brought with him into office a large increase in personal freedom has plummeted by nearly 9 percentage points, while the number of those who perceive a big decrease in personal freedom continues to rise.

The result is that the WND Freedom Index, derived from the poll results, has fallen from June’s 57.6 to 53.2 in July on a 100-point scale. The index is a monthly measure of how Americans feel about what might be happening to a basketful of liberties.

According to pollster Fritz Wenzel of Wenzel Strategies, the drop comes mostly because people are finding out that freedoms under Obama have decreased overall.

“Compared to the inaugural WND Freedom Index released in June, those who said freedoms had increased under Obama had dropped 9 percent, from 41 percent last month to 32 percent this month,” he reported.

“Most of those people have slipped into what could be characterized as a ‘neutral’ position as they wait to see what happens next,” he said.

He said the events over the last few weeks have been striking.

“The American economy continues to stumble with very few bright spots that indicate a long–term recovery is on the horizon. Supreme Court nominee [Sonia] Sotomayor has breezed through Senate confirmation hearing with nary a scratch from timid Republicans. The Obama administration, having pushed two major U.S. automakers through bankruptcy proceedings at breakneck speed, has turned its eyes toward a national health care reform plan,” he said.

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“As you would expect, there is a partisan divide on the question about Obama’s impact on freedoms of U.S. citizens, with 44 percent of Democrats saying there has been a significant increase in freedom, and 63 percent of Republicans saying there has been a big decrease. But even among Democrats, Obama’s support on this question is slipping significantly – last month 55 percent of Democrats felt he had boosted freedoms in a big way, which means he has lost about 12 percent backing among his own party members in the last five weeks,” he continued in his analysis.

A few more Republicans this month said they felt freedoms had decreased, as their numbers grew from 60 percent to 63 percent on the question, he said.

The poll revealed that independents also are changing their minds on Obama and freedom. Six percent fewer gave him credit for increasing freedoms, Wenzel said.

“Americans tend to give new presidents the benefit of the doubt, even if they don’t agree with them politically, largely because the actual performance of presidents seldom has a direct effect on the day-to-day lives of the everyday citizenry. But the Obama administration’s move to remake the national health care system, along with stories about the potential for increased taxes during a very difficult economy, is striking right at the heart – and budgets – of many families,” the analysis said.

“This brewing battle is likely to yield little in the way of warm and fuzzy feelings,” Wenzel said.

While 31 percent of respondents in June perceived a big increase in personal freedom under Obama’s leadership, that figure fell to only 23.4 percent in July. At the same time, those who see a big decrease in personal freedom during Obama’s tenure rose from 37 percent to 38.9 percent.

The new poll also showed one in four respondents has a great deal of fear of punishment for speaking their minds in America; one in five fear retribution for the people with whom they associate; nearly half say the government’s use of cameras, scanners and electronic records is very intrusive; and one in 10 fear attending a local rally for a cause in which they believe because of the threat of government investigation.

Alarmingly, more than one in 10 say they have great fear they will be punished, ostracized, investigated or penalized for choosing their own manner of worship.

The WND/Wenzel survey was conducted July 12-17 using an automated telephone technology calling a random sampling of listed telephone numbers nationwide. The survey included 16 questions and carries a 95 percent confidence interval. It included 807 adult respondents. It carries a margin of error of +/– 3.4 percentage points.

Though Obama has succeeded already in passing some agenda items through Congress, opponents see his falling approval ratings as evidence he is weakened, if not in trouble politically. Asked whether they felt free to speak up or attend a rally if there were a cause about which they felt strongly, Republican response increased substantially. Last month, 55 percent said they would feel free to speak up, but this month, 62 percent said they would voice their opinions or attend a rally.

The analysis cited the even more dramatic results from a related question.

“Asked whether they would feel free to put a political or religious bumper sticker on their car or wear a button, 65 percent of Republicans said they would, compared to just 50 percent who said the same thing just five weeks ago. Clearly, these data show Republicans will not sit idly by and let Democrats bowl them over,” Wenzel said.

One of the purposes of the survey, part of a series of monthly polls, is to create a new “Freedom Index” from the data – one that can be updated monthly to track changes in American attitudes about personal liberties. The index can be interpreted as meaning that Americans believe they and their countrymen enjoy a little over half of the liberties promised in the U.S. Constitution. Not all constitutional freedoms were tested, so it is not an exhaustive measurement of how people feel the Constitution is holding up today. The survey, rather, is an indicator of some major themes on the subject of liberty.

Wenzel is president of Wenzel Strategies a public opinion research and media consulting company. Formerly associated with Zogby International, he spent 25 years as a news and political reporter for major metro dailies.

If you are a member of the media and would like to interview Fritz Wenzel about this story, please e-mail.

See detailed results of survey questions:

Do you believe that, under the Obama administration, America has seen an increase or a decrease in freedom?

Do you believe that today Americans can speak their minds freely without fear of punishment, penalty or retribution?

Do you believe that today Americans can associate with anyone they want, no matter who they are, without fear of penalty, government investigation or retribution?

Do you believe that today Americans can worship in any manner they choose without fear they will be punished, ostracized, investigated or face some other penalty?

Do you believe that the government today is using technology, such as cameras, scanners, and electronic health records, to become too intrusive into the lives of citizens?

If there were a controversial cause about which you felt strongly, would you be afraid to attend a local rally to voice your opinion because of fear of retribution, penalty, or government investigation?

How free do you feel to put a bumper sticker on your car or to wear a button expressing your political or religious beliefs?

How free do you feel to discuss political or religious beliefs in a public place, such as in a restaurant or on a bus or train?

Do you feel you are free to express what you truly think about any subject without fear of harm, punishment, government investigation, or some other penalty?

Do you find that you self-censor thoughts before speaking on certain issues in public because you fear harm, punishment, social rejection, or some other penalty?



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