Civil Liberties and Constitutional Rights

Post-Boston Polls Find Americans Increasingly Unwilling To Trade Freedom for Security

By Alan Z. Rozenshtein
Wednesday, April 24, 2013, 11:18 AM

A very interesting post on the New York Times's FiveThirtyEight blog argues that, while Americans think future terrorist attacks are likely, they're also increasingly "skeptical about sacrificing personal freedoms for security." A Fox News poll right after 9/11 found that almost 75% of respondents were willing to sacrifice some personal freedom for security. But when conducted just after the Boston Marathon bombing, the same poll found that, for the first time since 9/11, a plurality of Americans were unwilling to accept restrictions on freedom in order to counter the terrorist threat.

This chart from FiveThirtyEight shows the trend nicely:

What's behind the shift? Perhaps Americans are growing accustomed to the threat of terrorism, or tiring of various policies put in place after 9/11 (nail clippers on planes, anybody?). The trend might well reverse itself if we see more domestic attacks. But for the time being, the data suggests another basis for going slowly on national-security reform in the wake of the Boston bombing — as I argued yesterday — as far as civil liberties are concerned.

Whether or not the government overreacted in the immediate aftermath of 9/11 (and, given the information available at the time, reasonable people can disagree), Americans then broadly supported a vigorous domestic counterterrorism policy. This time around, a rights-restrictive approach might not garner the same public support — if indeed that's the road the government intends to go down.