According to a pair of recent polls, for the first time since the 9/11 terrorist hijackings, Americans are more fearful their government will abuse constitutional liberties than fail to keep citizens safe.
Even in the wake of the April 15 Boston Marathon bombing – in which a pair of Islamic radicals are accused of planting explosives that took the lives of three and wounded more than 280 – the polls indicate Americans are hesitant to give up any further freedoms in exchange for increased “security.”
A Fox News survey polling a random national sample of 619 registered voters the day after the bombing found Americans responded very differently than after 9/11.
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 percent answered no to the question, compared to 43 percent answering yes.
In May 2001, before 9/11, the balance was similar, with 40 percent answering no to 33 percent answering yes.
But after the terrorist attacks of 9/11, the numbers flipped dramatically, to 71 percent agreeing 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. Yet the numbers declined from 71 percent following 9/11 to only 54 percent by May 2006.
Now, it would seem, the famous quote widely attributed to Benjamin Franklin – "They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety" – is holding more sway with Americans than it has in more than a dozen years.
A similar poll sampling 588 adults, conducted April 17 and 18 for the Washington Post, 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 percent of respondents worry the government will go too far, compared to 41 percent who worry it won't go far enough.
And similar to the Fox News poll, the Post found the worry to be a fresh development, as only 44 percent worried the government would go too far in January 2006, and only 27 percent worried the government would go too far in January 2010.
The Fox News poll was unique in that it further broke the responses down by political affiliation:
- Bucking the trend, 51 percent of Democrats responded they would give up personal freedom to reduce the threat of terror, compared to 36 percent opposed.
- Forty-seven percent of Republicans, on the other hand, opposed giving up freedoms, compared to only 43 percent in favor.
- Yet independents were the most resistant, with only 29 percent willing to sacrifice freedom, while 58 percent stood opposed.