Poll: Most Americans would trim liberties to be safer

McClatchy NewspapersJanuary 12, 2010 

WASHINGTON — After a recent attempted terrorist attack set off a debate about full-body X-rays at airports, a new McClatchy-Ipsos poll finds that Americans lean more toward giving up some of their liberty in exchange for more safety.

The survey found 51 percent of Americans agreeing that "it is necessary to give up some civil liberties in order to make the country safe from terrorism."

At the same time, 36 percent agreed that "some of the government's proposals will go too far in restricting the public's civil liberties."

The rest were undecided or said their opinions would depend on circumstances.

As has happened often since the 2001 terrorist attacks, the renewed debate over security is hinging on the balance between personal liberty and safety. The suspect's success in boarding a Detroit-bound plane allegedly carrying explosives is setting off calls for full body scans, which some find an invasion of privacy, and for new restrictions on passengers once they're in flight.

To stop terrorists, Americans look first to better governmental coordination and use of intelligence, the poll found, with 81 percent calling that effective and only 11 percent calling it ineffective.

Body scans or full body searches at airports ranked second, named by 74 percent as an effective way to stop terrorism. Nineteen percent called those measures ineffective.

Further restrictions on carry-on baggage ranked third, called effective by 57 percent, ineffective by 34 percent.

New in-flight restrictions such as banning the use of laptops and electronic equipment or restricting people to their seats ranked last, called effective by 50 percent and ineffective by 42 percent.

A solid majority of Americans still feel safe flying, but the number has dropped.

The survey found 75 percent saying they feel safe, down from 86 percent in 2007, and 24 percent saying they don't feel safe in the air, up from 13 percent in 2007.

Even with the Christmas Day bombing attempt and all the news coverage of it and its aftermath, terrorism remains very low on the national priority list. Just 4 percent called it the country's most important problem.

The economy and jobs remained the top issue on people's minds by far, named as the top problem by 48 percent of Americans polled.

Other domestic issues were cited by 31 percent, topped by 9 percent who said that health care was the biggest problem.

Fourteen percent cited some aspect of war or foreign policy, including the 4 percent who named terrorism.

The poll found that 52 percent approved of the way President Barack Obama is doing his job, and 45 percent disapproved.

METHODOLOGY:

These are some of the findings of a poll conducted from last Thursday through Monday. For the survey, Ipsos interviewed a nationally representative, randomly selected sample of 1,336 people 18 and older across the United States. With a sample of this size, the results are considered accurate within 2.68 percentage points, 19 times out of 20, of what they would've been had the entire adult population in the U.S. been polled. All sample surveys and polls may be subject to other sources of error, including coverage and measurement error. These data were weighted to ensure that the sample's composition reflects that of the U.S. population according to census figures. Respondents had the option to be interviewed in English or Spanish.

MORE FROM MCCLATCHY

Suspect in airplane bombing attempt indicted, faces life in prison

Obama takes responsibility, won't order firings in bomb plot

Poll: Obama, Democrats end the year politically weaker

Check out McClatchy's politics blog, Planet Washington

McClatchy Newspapers 2010

McClatchy Washington Bureau is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service