Majority Says the Federal Government Threatens Their Personal Rights

Views of Congress: Problem Lies with Members, Not the System

Pew Research Center

Jan. 31, 2013

As Barack Obama begins his second term in office, trust in the federal government remains mired near a historic low, while frustration with government remains high. And for the first time, a majority of the public says that the federal government threatens their personal rights and freedoms.

The latest national survey by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press, conducted Jan. 9-13 among 1,502 adults, finds that 53% think that the federal government threatens their own personal rights and freedoms while 43% disagree.

In March 2010, opinions were divided over whether the government represented a threat to personal freedom; 47% said it did while 50% disagreed. In surveys between 1995 and 2003, majorities rejected the idea that the government threatened people’s rights and freedoms.

The growing view that the federal government threatens personal rights and freedoms has been led by conservative Republicans. Currently 76% of conservative Republicans say that the federal government threatens their personal rights and freedoms and 54% describe the government as a “major” threat. Three years ago, 62% of conservative Republicans said the government was a threat to their freedom; 47% said it was a major threat.

 By comparison, there has been little change in opinions among Democrats; 38% say the government poses a threat to personal rights and freedoms and just 16% view it as a major threat.

People who say they have guns in their households continue to be more likely than those who do not to say that the government is a threat to their personal rights and freedoms. About six-in-ten (62%) in gun-owning households see the government as a threat, compared with 45% of those without guns; this gap is no larger today than it was three years ago.

The survey finds continued widespread distrust in government. About a quarter of Americans (26%) trust the government in Washington to do the right thing just about always or most of the time; 73% say they can trust the government only some of the time or volunteer that they can never trust the government. Explore a Pew Research interactive on Public Trust in Government: 1958-2013.