For the first time since 1995, when Pew Research Center began asking the question, a majority of Americans believe that the federal government threatens their personal freedoms and rights.
Fifty-three percent of respondents answered, "yes," while 43 percent answered, "no," when asked if the "federal government threatens your personal rights and freedoms." The Jan. 9-13 Pew Research Center poll of 1,502 adults has a margin of error of 2.9 percentage points.
Before this month's poll, the previous highs were in June 2000, and March 2010, when 46 and 47 percent, respectively, thought government posed a threat to freedom. The lowest levels of concern for federal government infringement on personal liberty were in November 2001, and August 2002, when 30 and 32 percent, respectively, were concerned about loss of freedom from the federal government.
Most of the increase in concern came from conservative Republicans. Seventy-six percent of conservative Republicans now say they are concerned about the federal government infringing on their freedom, a 14 percentage point increase from three years ago. The percentage of Democrats saying they are concerned has not changed much in three years; a little over one-third, 38 percent, believe the federal government poses a threat to individual liberty.
The poll was taken after the school shooting in Newtown, Mass. There has been much public debate about new gun control measures as a result. The poll found a wide difference between respondents who said they have a gun in the home and those who said they do not have a gun in the home.
Sixty-two percent of those with a gun in the home said the federal government is a threat to liberty, whereas only 45 percent of those without a gun in the home expressed concern about federal government infringement on liberty.
There was no partisan disagreement, though, when asked whether, "the political system can work fine, it's the members [of Congress] that are the problem," or, "most members [of Congress] have good intentions, it's the political system that is broken."
Fifty-six percent answered that members of Congress are the problem while only 32 percent said the political system is broken. The answers among Republicans, Democrats and independents were nearly identical and within the margin of error.