Majority in U.S. believe it’s sometimes necessary for gov’t to sacrifice freedoms

A majority of Americans say it can be necessary for the government to sacrifice freedoms to fight terrorism, according to a new national survey conducted by The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research. Fifty-four percent of Americans say it can be necessary, 45 percent disagree. And about half of Americans think it is acceptable to allow warrantless government analysis of internet activities and communications–even of American citizens–in order to keep an eye out for suspicious activity, but about 3 in 10 are against this type of government investigation.

“In the aftermath of the attacks in Paris and California, we are seeing the public’s concern about being personally affected by terrorism evolve. For instance, 20 percent of Americans are very concerned that they or a family member could be a victim of a terrorist attack, up from 10 percent in 2013,” said Trevor Tompson, director of The AP-NORC Center. “The survey also found that respondents are just as concerned about attacks by Islamic extremists as they are about home-grown terrorists.”

Key findings from the survey include:

  • Only about a quarter of Americans say protecting their rights and freedoms as citizens is more critical than being kept secure. Four in 10 say safety is more important than civil liberties. Three in 10 say both are equally important.
  • Two-thirds of Republicans favor the analysis of internet activity and communication by the government without a warrant. Fifty-five percent of Democrats and only 40 percent of independents agree.
  • A majority of the public say the government is doing a good job protecting the right to vote, freedom of speech, freedom of religion, and freedom of the press. But they are less positive about government efforts to protect the right to bear arms, equal protection under the law, and unreasonable search and seizure.
  • While Republicans and Democrats are equally anxious about the possibility of being personally affected by domestic terrorism, two-thirds of Republicans and half of Democrats are greatly or somewhat concerned about becoming a victim of Islamic extremism in the United States.

About the Survey

The nationwide poll was conducted December 10-13, 2015, using the AmeriSpeak Panel, the probability-based panel of NORC at the University of Chicago. Online and telephone interviews using landlines and cell phones were conducted with 1,042 adults.


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