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Poll: majority believe government threatens liberties.

In the American Declaration of Independence, the Founding Fathers stated that "Governments are instituted among Men" to secure the fundamental rights of the people, and that governments derive their "just powers from the consent of the governed."

But now, a clear majority of the American people distrusts the federal government and believes that it "threatens their own personal rights and freedoms."

Pew Research Center for the People and the Press has tracked public opinion regarding trust in the federal government across the span of several presidential administrations, and the level of distrust has steadily grown. In a January 31 release accompanying the latest poll results ("Majority Says the Federal Government Threatens Their Personal Rights"), the Pew Research Center noted that an overwhelming majority of citizens operates on the assumption that the federal government will not do the "right thing":
  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. ...

  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.

The poll emphasizes that Americans do not view the federal government as an abstract threat, but as a concrete danger to their liberties; even 34 percent of self-described "liberal Democrats" view the federal government as threatening their "personal rights and freedoms." A majority of Americans share that assessment:
  Overall, 53% of Americans think that the federal government threatens
  their own rights and freedoms; 31% say it is a major threat, while
  22% say it is 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.

Reporting on the poll results, the Washington Post noted that the public's view of the federal government has fluctuated over the years:
  Overall, the percentage of Americans who view the federal government
  as a threat has increased from 36 percent in May 1995 to 53 percent
  today. It rose late in the 1990s and then dropped again after 9/11,
  down to 30 percent. Today, most Americans now feel at least somewhat
  scared of what the government could do to them, and 31 percent see
  Washington as a "major threat."

Sentiments that might have seemed extreme to a majority of Americans several years ago are now clearly mainstream, and this level of fundamental distrust of the federal government could easily influence the public debate over proposed federal gun-control measures. As Aaron Blake wrote for the Washington Post:
  This is an important piece of data to keep in mind as Congress
  debates new gun legislation. While polls show broad support for
  expanding background checks and limiting the manufacture and sale of
  certain types of so-called assault weapons, the flip side of that is
  that many Americans are wary of their government going too far in
  restricting their constitutional rights--be it on guns or anything

The psychology is simple: When people are afraid, they seek to protect themselves, and they will only become more afraid if the perceived source of the threat attempts to deprive them of the means of self-defense. When a majority of citizens is already afraid that the federal government is a "threat" to their fundamental freedoms, the notion that the same federal government would attempt to abridge those freedoms by attacking the free exercise of a fundamental right enumerated in the Bill of Rights is likely to increase the number of people who view the federal government as a "threat" to their liberties.

According to the Pew poll, "For the past seven years, a period covering the final two years of the Bush administration and Obama's entire presidency, no more than about three-in-ten Americans have said that they trust the government in Washington to do the right thing always or most of the time"--a breathtaking level of distrust in a form of government that ostensibly relies upon the consent of the governed.
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Publication:The New American
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Mar 4, 2013
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