Basic American Rights

    December 19, 2019

    92% of Americans think their basic rights are being threatened, new poll shows

    Most Americans surveyed – 92% – think their rights are under siege, according to a poll released Monday.

    Americans are most concerned that their freedom of speech (48%), right to bear arms (47%) and right to equal justice (41%) are at risk, says the Harris Poll/Purple Project, which surveyed 2,002 people nationwide.

    “When you frame something as a threat, it creates a bit of a political response, and it creates division and encampments of special interest,” said John Gerzema, CEO of the Harris Poll. That’s why political parties and lobbying groups warn supporters with strident language, he said: It’s easier to drum up backing for a political cause by talking about an issue in terms of “threats.”

    But when you start to consider which rights and freedoms really matter, Gerzema said, poll responses changed – and Americans re-prioritized which values they cared about most.

    When asked what rights and freedoms Americans would miss if they were taken away – rather than which ones are threatened – poll respondents’ concerns generally ticked upward.

    Sixty-three percent said they would miss freedom of speech if that right was taken away, while nearly half would miss freedom of expression (46%) and the right to equal justice (45%).

    “When you look at the things we really value, what makes America so special is these core tenets of our Constitution,” Gerzema said. “I just find it interesting to note how much Americans really value this.”

    The poll results come at a juncture in American politics where friction and division are more apparent – and Americans are overwhelmingly frustrated by the discourse. In fact, another recent survey, a Public Agenda/USA TODAY/Ipsos poll, shows that the divisive national debate over just about everything has convinced many that the country is heading in the wrong direction. More than nine of 10 in that poll said it’s crucial for the U.S. to try to reduce that divisiveness.

    Even among Americans with opposing political views, a majority surveyed in the Harris Poll/Purple Project – 55% – want more meaningful conversations.

    How can this be done? Talking about issues in a way that de-escalates tensions from a threat and helps Americans find common ground, Gerzema said. So does finding common ground on shared values and freedoms, both at the dinner table and between the political aisle, he said.

    Even if Americans don’t agree on a contentious, politically charged topic, they can find shared values in the things that Americans tend to take for granted, he said.

    After all, only 16% of Americans thought their right to own property was under threat, but 44% would miss that right. Same goes for free speech, which 63% said they would miss if it was gone – 15% more than felt free speech was at risk of being taken away.

    Gerzema’s advice to the folks in Washington? Focus on the things that are fundamental to the American way of life.

    “There is something wonderful going on underneath the surface, and that’s what I wish our leaders in Washington would pay attention to,” he said. “You start to see the true, softer side of America’s rough-and-tumble political reality.”


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