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.

There’s a new “chill” that has nothing to do with claims of global warming or climate change and everything to do with the failing confidence Americans feel in their own freedoms, according to a new poll.

“More Americans this month felt that there was more of a climate of fear over their freedom of association – with more than one in three – 36 percent – saying that they believed Americans had reason to fear punishment or retribution based on who their friends were or who they met with. This is chilling stuff!” said Fritz Wenzel of Wenzel Strategies.

The WND/Wenzel telephone survey was conducted Dec. 18-21 using an automated telephone technology calling a random sampling of listed telephone numbers. The survey included 26 questions and carries a 95 percent confidence interval. It included 823 likely voters. It carries a margin of error of 3.4 percentage points.

His survey revealed that the WorldNetDaily Freedom Index took a huge plunge in December, dropping to its lowest ever mark of 46.4 on a 100-point scale. The assessment is based on respondents’ answers to a series of monthly questions about how they feel about a basketful of liberties they enjoy as Americans.

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The survey’s initial result in June was 57.6, which fell to 53.2 in July. There followed a slight uptick with 54.2 in August and 56.4 in September, but October fell again, to 52.2 followed by a weak rally at 53.6 in November.

Wenzel described the issues undermining Americans’ confidence in their liberties as linked to Washington’s moves toward President Obama’s agenda.

“When it comes to health care reform, December has turned out to be a very good month for President Barack Obama,” he said. “But when it comes to public approval of his work, it has been a very bad month.”

“There has been a dramatic negative move in the WorldNetDaily.com Freedom Index this month, dropping for othe first time below the dead-level-even mark of 50 on its 100-point scale. It now stands at 46.4, down from 53.6 just a month ago

“This coincides with the commencement of the serious votes on the health care bill, which apparently imposes some harsh restrictions on virtually every aspect of the American health care system,” he said.

“Clearly, people are spooked.”

Nearly half of all respondents – 47 percent, confirmed there has been a decrease in freedoms under Obama’s reign. That was up from 40 percent a month earlier.

“That’s a big move,” Wenzel said.

“And, in this and other polls, Obama has seen his job approval rating plummet,” he continued. “In this survey, his approval is just 41 percent positive, down from 44 percent last month. He is slipping dangerously close to a point from which it will be very hard to recover.”

Wenzel reported among Republicans, 73 percent confirmed “a decrease in freedoms under Obama, up from 61 percent just one month ago.”

“And among political independents, the percentage who said the same thing increased by 7 percent this month over last,” he said.

Along with increased worries about the loss of American freedoms, “more Americans this month felt that there was more of a climate of fear over their freedom of association,” he said.

Thirty-six percent said they thought Americans has reason to be concerned about punishment based on their friends and acquaintances, he said.

“An increase in the fear that Republicans said they personally feel when expressing their thoughts using a bumper sticker or campaign button was offset by a growing sense of freedoms felt by Democrats to do the same thing. This is a continuing trend of political polarization that we have seen in the WND Freedom Index over the past few months which has coincided with the increasing bitterness over sweeping Capitol Hill legislation,” he said.

The result may not be good news for the president.

“This is the bottom line – coming on the heels of the Democratic Party election losses last month, this polling data paints a drab picture for the Democrats heading into what is shaping up to be a critical congressional election year,” Wenzel suggested.

“The Democrats have so far pinned their legislative hopes on landmark victories on two key issues – health care reform and the so-called Cap and Trade environmental bill that passed the House last summer, but public sentiment on both of those issues has tilted strongly against the Democratic Party.

“Politics is a lot like the weather – just wait a little while and it will change. But right now, it is hard to imagine a scenario – or an issue – where they [Democrats] could regain enough political momentum to hold their majorities in both houses less than 11 months from now,” Wenzel said.

Nearly one voter in five said Americans are “not at all free” to speak their minds without fear of punishment and another one in six said the country is “not very free.” One in seven even have “great fear” that punishment or investigation could result from their choice of worship.

The means for the government to obtain such information also is an issue. More than three in 10 believe the government is using “scanners” and electronic records to create “great intrusion” into American lives. Nearly 10 percent express “great fear” at even expressing their own opinions.

About one in six said they were not very free or not at all free to even put a bumper sticker expressing their political or religious beliefs on their vehicles. One in five expressed the same reservations about discussing their beliefs if the conversation was in a public area. And more than one in four said they were not very or not at all free to express their opinions without fear of government penalty.

The result was that more than 25 percent of Americans censor their own expressions because of the perceived threat.

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?

If you would like to sound off on this issue, participate in today’s WND Poll.

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