PATRIOTic Americans

Listening to the media, one would think that Americans should be in the streets rioting over the civil rights abuses contained in the PATRIOT Act. On the Right and the Left, criticisms of the relatively new law abound, with claims bouncing here and there that civil liberties are being — or will be — trampled by the John Ashcroft Department of Justice as it enforces a law pushed by the Bush Gestapo and passed 357-66 in the House and, quite notably, 98-1 in the Senate (Sen. Russ Feingold (D.-Wis.), not John Kerry, was the only dissenting vote).

I mention this not to discuss my views, pro or con, on the PATRIOT Act, but to note the views of Americans as revealed by a recent Gallup Poll. After hearing the press and pundits, I was under the impression that such reports reflected a negative attitude among the American public about the law, or that, at the very least, people would begin to be negative after hearing about the abuses of individual freedoms from their favorite newsman.

But, according to Gallup, such is not the case.


In her March 2, 2004, report titled “Americans Generally Comfortable With PATRIOT Act,” Lydia Saad notes that most Americans “believe [the PATRIOT Act] is within acceptable bounds in its treatment of civil liberties.” Gallup’s numbers show that by more than 2-to-1 (64 percent to 26 percent), Americans believe the law is “about right” or “does not go far enough in restricting people’s civil liberties in order to fight terrorism” rather than think the law goes “too far.”

Of the various sub-groups listed, one that really stood out to me was the opinion of self-described “liberals.” According to Saad, only 45 percent of these liberals say the PATRIOT Act goes too far, while 44 percent are in the camp that feels the law is about right or doesn’t go far enough.

Ashcroft vs. ACLU

The most interesting part of this Gallup report is the head-to-head competition between John Ashcroft and the ACLU over who can best protect Americans from terrorism while protecting basic civil liberties.

When queried about how much they “trust [Ashcroft and the ACLU] to balance the need to protect Americans from terrorist attacks in the U.S. with the need to protect basic civil liberties for Americans,” 57 percent of those polled said they have a “great deal” or “moderate amount” of confidence in John Ashcroft, while 38 percent answered “not much” or “not at all.” But only 43 percent declared a “great deal” or “moderate amount” of trust in the ACLU, and 53 percent said they trusted the ACLU “not much” or “not at all.”

Does this Gallup Poll run counter to everything you’ve heard about the PATRIOT Act, John Ashcroft and the ACLU in the media? It does for me.