Eight in ten Americans are worried that some of their constitutional rights are being “diluted or taken away,” according to a new survey by the Montpelier Foundation.
The study, which was released this month, found that 76 percent of Americans think their constitutional rights are not as secure today as they were in the past. Additionally, 86 percent of respondents said they thought Americans take their rights for granted.
The study focused on Americans’ attitudes about the Constitution, but also drilled down on top issues. At least 90 percent or more of respondents ranked civil rights, data privacy, voting rights and freedom of the press as top personal concerns, beating out issues like gun control and abortion.
However, when asked to name the most pressing issues facing the nation — not themselves, personally — 53 percent of Americans said gun control.
The study found that 41 percent of Americans believe the Constitution needs to be amended or expanded — and of those, a majority want more restrictions on gun ownership.
“What was really interesting is that how we feel about our rights is different than what we think is nationally important,”said Kat Imhoff, the president and CEO of the Montpelier Foundation.
The foundation, on the site of James Madison’s estate in Virginia, was established in 2000. The survey was conducted by Edelman Intelligence in June. The foundation is hosting a forum on the study’s findings Tuesday moderated by PBS NewsHour anchor and managing editor Judy Woodruff.
The study comes at a time when a string of mass shootings has sparked a fresh debate about gun control. Abortion rights received attention during Brett Kavanaugh’s Supreme Court confirmation hearing earlier this month. Issues around data privacy and election security have also been in the news ahead of the midterm elections this fall.
The study also found divisions along ethnic, racial and gender lines. For example, women were more likely than men to say they believed gun rights are more important. On the issue of criminal justice, 73 percent of white respondents said that police “conduct searches/arrests in a constitutional manner,” compared to just 40 percent of people who identified as African American in the study.
“What side do you imagine yourself on? Are you holding the police officer’s gun or staring down the barrel?” said Hasan Jeffries, an African American history professor at Ohio State University. “How people position themselves really makes a difference in how they view their rights.”
Still, Jeffries said, the survey results suggested that Americans believe in the nation’s founding documents. “They may disagree on what is important,” he said. “But this survey shows the Constitution is still important 250 years after it was written.”
The Montpelier Foundation poll of 2,500 people was conducted from June 11 to June 18, 2018. The margin of error was 2 percent.