Roughly three-quarters (76%) of conservative Republicans say that the government threatens their personal rights, and most (54%) say the government poses a major threat, by far the highest percentage of any ideological group.
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.
Just 20% of Americans say they are basically content with the federal government; 58% say they are frustrated while 19% say they are angry. For the most part, these views have changed little during Obama’s presidency. However, the percentage saying they are content with government sank to a low of just 11% in August 2011, following protracted negotiations between the president and congressional leaders over raising the debt ceiling. The same survey found that the percentage expressing anger at government had reached 26%, and just 19% said they trusted the government at least most of the time.
Views of Congress: Problem Lies with Members, Not the System
Opinions about Congress, while little changed over the past year, also remain very negative. Just 23% offer a favorable opinion of Congress, while 68% express an unfavorable view. Favorable views of Congress hit 50% in spring 2009 but subsequently have plummeted.
For two decades between 1985 and 2005 Congress was generally viewed more favorably than unfavorably. The low point during that period came in the fall of 1995 – just prior to the government shutdown of that year – when 42% offered a favorable opinion of Congress.
When asked if the current problem with Congress is a broken political system, or the members themselves, most people continue to point to the lawmakers. A majority (56%) says that the political system can work fine, it is the members of Congress that are the problem.
Only about a third (32%) says that lawmakers have good intentions and it is political system that is broken. At a time when there are wide partisan differences in opinions about government, there is broad agreement that members of Congress are the problem. Virtually identical majorities of Republicans (58%), Democrats (57%) and independents (56%) say that lawmakers, rather than the political system, are the problem with Congress.
Government Viewed as ‘Threat’
Overall, 53% of Americans think that the federal government threatens their own rights and freedoms; 31% say it is major threat, while 22% say it a minor threat. Roughly three-quarters (76%) of conservative Republicans say that the government threatens their personal rights, and most (54%) say the government poses a major threat, by far the highest percentage of any ideological group. Among moderate and liberal Republicans, 57% view the federal government as a threat to personal rights and freedoms and just 32% say it is a major threat. These opinions, like those among Democrats and independents, are little changed from March 2010.