Pew: Majority now believes federal gov't a threat to their freedom

Get out of town!  Why would Americans increasingly believe that?  It’s not as if the federal government has forced them to buy insurance for the privilege of breathing, threatened to grab their firearms, or imposed a new and restrictive definition of “free expression” of religion.

Oh, wait

As Barack Obama begins his second term in office, trust in the federal government remains mired near a historic low, while frustration with government remains high. And for the first time, a majority of the public says that the federal government threatens their personal rights and freedoms.

The latest national survey by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press, conducted Jan. 9-13 among 1,502 adults, finds that 53% think that the federal government threatens their own personal rights and freedoms while 43% disagree.

In March 2010, opinions were divided over whether the government represented a threat to personal freedom; 47% said it did while 50% disagreed. In surveys between 1995 and 2003, majorities rejected the idea that the government threatened people’s rights and freedoms.

The change, says Pew, comes largely from conservative Republicans, who went from 62% to 76% over the last 34 months.  However, a majority of self-described independents (55%) believe the same thing, almost the exact same as “moderate/liberal Republicans,” an increase of five points in that period.  That sentiment also increased among Democrats, going from 34% to 38%. Note, too, that the comparison takes place with March 2010, when Congress shoved ObamaCare into law despite widespread opposition that still exists today.

The history of this question in the series is illuminating, too:

Note the previous significant shift in opinion, which took place between August 2002 and October 2003.  That’s probably attributable to the Patriot Act, which Barack Obama used to oppose but liked a whole lot more once he took office.  Before that, the most significant shift was optimistic, right after 9/11, after pessimism had climbed throughout the Clinton administration.

The Washington Post’s Aaron Blake connects some of the dots:

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 else.

And if gun rights supporters can convince the public (and members of Congress) that the legislation creates a too-powerful federal government that impinges on people’s rights and freedoms, they may help reverse their early deficit in the polls.

The American public is very receptive to such a message.

For good reason.