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Two years into the pandemic, poll finds Americans feel their civil liberties are less secure

Mar 11, 2022 by AFP

New survey from YouGov and Americans for Prosperity reveals reduced trust in public leaders over handling of public health policies.

Today, approaching the 2nd anniversary of the start of the pandemic, YouGov and Americans for Prosperity released new research showing high concern among Americans over the state of their civil liberties and their trust in public leaders.

Casey Mattox, Americans for Prosperity’s vice president for legal and judicial strategy, had this to say about the results:

“Civil liberties and COVID response never should have been in conflict. But two years into this pandemic, Americans feel their rights are less secure. And the result is decreased confidence in public officials themselves. Government leaders can learn from this experience. They need public confidence to combat public health challenges, but that trust erodes when Americans perceive them as ignoring reasonable concerns about their basic rights.”

For much of the country, March 2020 marked the start of COVID. Public officials at every level of government began to consider and enact policies intended to mitigate its spread — requiring people to make personal sacrifices for the greater good of public health.

Early, targeted, and time-limited action can save lives and justify exercising extraordinary powers while people race to understand an emerging threat. But misusing or abusing those powers risks diminishing public confidence rather than building it. And reduced trust in our institutions makes it harder to galvanize public response when we face another threat.

How secure are Americans in their civil liberties?

The new poll shows:

  • 43 percent of Americans feel their protest rights are less secure; only 9 percent say they’re more secure
  • 42 percent of Americans feel their ability to voice their opinion had diminished since the start of the pandemic; only 12 percent say they’re ability to voice their opinion had become more secure
  • More than one in three Americans feel their religious liberties are less secure; only 10 percent feel they’re more secure

More people in the U.S. feel their rights have become less secure since the beginning of the pandemic

What do Americans think should be done about online speech and misinformation?

More than half of Americans say government should largely or entirely avoid banning misinformation online.

  • 36 percent of those felt online misinformation should not be banned but that government officials should use their speech to explain why the misinformation was false.
  • Another 18 percent said the government should be largely hands off when it comes to banning COVID misinformation.

This leaves only 30 percent who said the government should ban misinformation and another 15 percent who said something else should be done.

More than half of Americans say government should largely or entirely avoid banning misinformation online

What sort of trust do Americans have in our institutions?

  • 49 percent of people said their trust in the CDC has gone way down or slightly down since the start of the pandemic
  • 41 percent of Americans said their trust in the Congress is “way down,” and another 20 percent said that their trust in Congress has gone slightly down, for a total of 61 percent of Americans who indicated they have lost trust in U.S. Congress since the beginning of the pandemic.

How well do Americans approve of public officials and their response to COVID-19?

  • 59 percent of Americans said public officials did a somewhat or very poor job of being transparent with the public about the information being used and the reasoning regarding any restrictions or requirements. 28 percent said government officials did a somewhat or very good job. 13 percent were unsure.
  • Nearly six in ten Americans (58 percent) believe public officials did a poor job of seeking input from the public; Only 22 percent said they did a somewhat or very good job and another 20 percent were not sure.
  • 55 percent of Americans think officials have done a poor job re-assessing any restrictions or requirements. 29 percent believe they did a good job.
  • 52 percent of people said officials did a poor job keeping any restrictions or requirements as focused and narrow as possible, with 27 percent disagreeing and saying government officials did a good job.
  • 52 percent of Americans also say officials did a poor job allowing sensible modifications to rules as opposed to having blanket bans on activities. 30 percent of Americans think they did a good job.
  • 54 percent of people said officials have done a somewhat or very poor job applying any restrictions or requirements equally to all people. 31 percent of Americans think government officials did a good job with respect to applying COVID restrictions equally to all people.

Most people think government officials have done a poor job with common sense approaches to COVID rulemaking

Free speech is not only a fundamental right, it also empowers progress. Without free speech and free association, many of the greatest movements in history — and even technological advances that improved the lives of billions — could not have occurred.

Mattox added, “Protecting these freedoms in law is not enough if those who would exercise them do not believe their right to do so is secure.” That’s why AFP works to make it easier for all Americans to raise their voices and to promote a free and open society.

Read the full research memo.