Fewer Americans Believe the US Allows Peaceful Protests

Police and protesters square off outside the Richmond Police Department headquarters on Grace Street in Richmond, Va. on July 25, 2020. (Joe Mahoney/Richmond Times-Dispatch via AP)

(CN) — While most Americans believe that the right to peacefully protest is important, the number who believe that right is being honored in the U.S. is declining, according to a new poll released Wednesday.

A Pew Research Center survey found that Americans who believe that “people are free to peacefully protest” in the United States has fallen from 73% in 2018 to 60% in July and August of 2020, with the decline coming from almost entirely Democrats.

Among the public overall, 68% say it is very important for the country that people are free to peacefully protest, down from 74% two years ago. In this case, the decline has come entirely among Republicans. 

Only 53% of Republicans and Republican-leaning independents say it is very important for the country that people are free to peacefully protest. Two years ago, 64% of Republicans said that it was very important that people are free to protest peacefully. 

Among Democrats, there has been no change in views in the importance of being able to protest peacefully: 82% currently say this is very important, and the same share said this two years ago. 

Perhaps even more significantly, the poll of 11,000 U.S. adults found that fewer than half of Americans say the rights and freedoms of all are respected. While 85% of those polled say it is very important that the rights and freedoms of all people are respected, only 41% say this describes the country as it currently stands. 

The poll found that 52% of Republicans but only 30% of Democrats agreed that the U.S. respects the rights and freedoms of all, and both numbers are down from two years ago.

Respondents from both parties largely agreed on the importance of principles such as consequences for misconduct by politicians and a balance of power among the three branches of government. But the gap between Democrats and Republicans was much wider in answering questions about whether those principles were being executed in the real world.

Only 42% of Democrats believe that there is an effective balance of power, while 65% of Republicans believe that the branches are currently well-balanced. Among Democrats, 21% believe that elected officials face serious consequences for misconduct, compared to 32% of Republicans.

The widest gap found in the survey related to the statement that “everyone has an equal opportunity to succeed” in the United States. Among Republicans, 74% found that principle to be very important, and 76% of respondents believed that the principle is being upheld in America. Among Democrats, 86% believed the principle to be important, but only 28% felt that it accurately described American life today.

When it comes to the U.S. government’s effectiveness in leading the country, a 62% majority of the polled respondents said they believe significant changes are needed in the fundamental design and structure of government to make it work for current times. 

While these numbers are not much different from the 2018 poll, Democrats and Republicans have moved further apart in their opinions. Currently, 79% of Democrats say significant changes in the structure of government are needed, compared with 41% of Republicans.

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