The spirit of Benjamin Franklin’s oft-quoted assertion that “[t]hose who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety” may be enjoying more currency among Americans in 2013 than it has since the days of Sept. 11 and the Patriot Act.
Two polls conducted in the wake of the recent Boston Marathon bombings reveal American attitudes may be shifting away from surrendering their personal freedoms in exchange for government’s assurance to keep everyone safe.
A FOX News poll conducted the day after the Boston bombings asked 619 people some of the same questions about the balance between liberty and security that a similar poll had asked immediately following the World Trade Center bombings; the results were very different this time around.
Back in 2001, in the immediate aftermath of the Sept. 11 attacks, 71 percent of Americans polled by FOX News responded that they’d be willing to trade some freedom if it would help the U.S. government “reduce the threat of terrorism.” The poll was also repeated following terrorist incidents, both domestic and foreign, in 2002, 2005 and 2006, with the number only slightly declining as respondents’ vivid memories of the most spectacular incident, Sept. 11, slowly receded.
But after Boston, the same poll showed only 43 percent of respondents held that view. That’s the lowest number since before the 2001 attacks, when a May 2001 iteration of the poll turned up only 33 percent of respondents who thought it appropriate to hand over their liberties for the sake of protection.
Among those surveyed, people who identified themselves as political “independents” resisted the idea of giving up their freedoms at a lower rate (29 percent) than either Democrats (36 percent) or Republicans (47 percent).
In a similar poll, The Washington Post asked 588 people: “Which worries you more — 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?”
Conducted April 17 and 18, the poll showed 48 percent of respondents felt the government would go too far in compromising their Constitutional rights, while 41 percent favored the alternate view. The same poll also showed that 66 percent believe terrorists will always find a way around the government’s most diligent efforts at preventing attacks on U.S. targets.