Most in US say rights not eroded since 9/11
But loss of freedoms is feared, poll finds
WASHINGTON -- Most Americans do not believe their individual freedom has been eroded by post-Sept. 11 laws to combat terrorism, but two-thirds are worried that it could happen, according to an Associated Press poll.
The survey also found sharply partisan differences on how people view Attorney General John D. Ashcroft, an ardent supporter of the antiterrorism laws that he says have been instrumental in preventing another attack against the United States.
About two-thirds of respondents said they are somewhat or very concerned about the possible loss of freedom from such measures. On a separate question, 31 percent said they think people's legal rights have been violated, while 58 percent said they had not, according to the poll conducted for the AP by ICR/International Communications Research of Media, Pa.
"They have to restrict some freedoms to keep the majority of the people safe," said Blair Palm, a 48-year-old conservative from Stafford, Va., who considers herself politically independent. "I hope we'll be able to nip the terrorism threat before things go too far."
About half of those polled said the Bush administration has been about right in using new laws to fight terrorism. Some 24 percent say the government has gone too far, and 18 percent said it has not gone far enough.
The poll also found 51 percent of people believe it will be necessary for average people to give up some individual freedom as part of the fight against terrorism.
"They're probably going too far," said Ruth Soaeis, a 34-year-old housewife and mother from Pawtucket, R.I., who is a political independent. "But they're trying to protect us."
The poll found that several groups -- including the most affluent, the highest-educated, Democrats, and blacks -- were more likely to believe legal rights have been violated.
"I'm certain some people's rights have been taken away," said Jeff Warner, a 32-year-old Democrat from Flushing, Mich. "I'm sure that some people of Arab descent have been mistreated. I think that if President Bush gets reelected, it's going to get much worse."
Ashcroft this week completed a 16-city tour in which he repeatedly praised the USA Patriot Act passed after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. The law expanded government surveillance capabilities, toughened criminal penalties for terrorists, and removed a legal barrier that for years prevented intelligence agencies and criminal investigators and prosecutors from sharing information.
Ashcroft, who favors an expansion of Patriot Act powers, has become a polarizing figure in the debate over civil rights protections and the campaign against terrorism.
The AP poll found 39 percent view him favorably and 20 percent unfavorably, with 41 percent offering no opinion, a significant increase from the number who were undecided at the beginning of the year.
Not surprisingly, Republicans were much more likely to be supportive of the attorney general, while Democrats were about evenly divided about him. "He's a go-getter, not passive," said David Bending, a 35-year-old Republican businessman from Lake Villa, Ill.
The Democratic presidential candidates recognize that for members of their party, Ashcroft is one of the most unpopular figures in the Bush administration. They mention him frequently in their comments to partisan crowds.
Democratic voters have their reservations, as well, about the attorney general. "I don't like him; he's too forceful, too arrogant," said social worker June Audain, a 45-year-old Democrat from Brooklyn, N.Y. The poll of 1,008 people was conducted from Sept. 4 to 8. It has a margin of error of plus or minus 3 percentage points.
© Copyright 2003 Globe Newspaper Company.