Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Losing our freedom?

Many people today (especially conservatives) think that our basic freedoms are threatened--that even apparently innocuous reforms are a step down the road to serfdom.   But there have always been people like that--in 1961 Ronald Reagan warned about how Medicare was part of the process of  "imposing statism or socialism" on the people--so the question is whether there are more than there used to be.

In the 1960s and 1970s, there were only a few questions on the general topic:

1964: "The federal government is gradually taking away our basic freedoms."
            42%  Agree;    51%  Disagree;    7%  Don't Know

1965:    "Some people say that Americans have lost or are losing some of their constitutional freedoms.  Just your own personal opinion, do you agree or disagree?"
          46% agree; 44% disagree; 10% Don't Know

1976:  "The Federal Government is gradually taking away our freedoms"
           34% Fully agree;  36% Partially agree;  30%  Disagree

1977:  "The Federal Government is gradually taking away our freedoms"
          37% Fully agree;  31%  Partially agree;  31% Disagree

Since 1995, the following question has been asked pretty frequently "Do you think the federal government [has become so large and powerful that it] poses an immediate threat to the rights and freedoms of ordinary citizens, or not?"  Sometimes the words in brackets were included.  A graph of the percent agreeing:

The red line is questions including the "large and powerful" language.  Agreement is consistently higher when those words are added, but either way there seems to have been a decline from the mid-1990s to about 2000, and then a rise.  Unfortunately the few questions from the 1960s and 1970s are worded differently, so it's hard to come to any definite conclusions about long-term trends.

[Data from iPOLL,  Roper Center for Public Opinion Research]

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