Civil Liberties and Security: 20 Years after 9/11

Americans have become less inclined to support trading civil liberties for security and most do not think the country is doing a good job protecting many rights and liberties.

September 10, 2021

Twenty years after the September 11th terrorist attacks, Americans are less supportive of trading civil liberties for security and have lost faith in the country’s ability to protect various rights and liberties. In 2011, 10 years after the terrorist attack, nearly two-thirds were willing to sacrifice rights and freedoms to protect the country from terrorism. But by 2015, just over half were willing to surrender their civil rights and freedoms to combat terrorism; a number that is holding steady in 2021.

A decade after the September 11th attacks, most Americans agreed that the government did a good job protecting most rights, including many defined in the Bill of Rights or protected by laws and court rulings. But over the past 10 years, the public’s faith in the government’s ability to safeguard these rights and liberties has faded. One of the steepest declines is on the right to vote. In 2011, 84% thought the government was doing a good job protecting the right to vote. Just 43% say the same in 2021.    

Twenty years after the attack, 54% feel it is sometimes necessary to surrender rights and freedoms to fight terrorism, and 44% do not think it is ever necessary to give up any civil liberties. Sixty-four percent of Democrats say it’s sometimes necessary to give up rights and freedoms to prevent terrorism, which is largely consistent with AP-NORC polls conducted in 2015, 2013 and 2011. But Republicans are divided, with 46% saying it’s sometimes necessary and 53% saying it’s never necessary. In 2011, 69% of Republicans said it was sometimes necessary, and 62% said the same in 2015.

Older Americans are more inclined to be willing to give up rights and freedoms to fight terrorism.  Sixty-one percent of people age 60 and older say it is sometimes necessary to sacrifice rights and freedoms compared with 51% of younger adults.  Seventy-seven percent of Asian adults say that, at times, it can be necessary to sacrifice rights and freedoms to stop terrorism, but only about half of white, Black, and Hispanic adults agree.

For the most part, older Americans are just as likely as those under 60 not to have a positive view of how the government is defending Americans’ rights and freedoms. However, more than half of people age 60 and older say the government is doing a good job protecting the right of peaceful assembly, while only about 4 in 10 younger adults agree. 

Asian adults tend to have a more positive view of the government’s efforts to uphold the country’s freedom and rights than other people. For example, at least 6 in 10 Asian adults say the government is doing a good job protecting freedom of speech and freedom of the press; less than half of white or Black adults agree. 

Democrats tend to see the government as doing a good job at protecting various rights and freedoms, while Republicans are more inclined to say the government is doing a poor job.  However, there are no significant partisan differences regarding the right to vote, freedom from cruel and unusual punishment, freedom from punishment without trial, equal protection under the law, or freedom from unreasonable search and seizure.

The nationwide poll was conducted August 12-16, 2021 using the AmeriSpeak® Panel, the probability-based panel of NORC at the University of Chicago. Online and telephone interviews using landlines and cell phones were conducted with 1,729 adults. The margin of sampling error is +/- 3.2 percentage points.

Asian, Black, and Hispanic respondents were sampled at a higher rate than their proportion of the population for reasons of analysis. The margin of sampling error for the 318 completed interviews with Asian respondents is +/- 8.2 percentage points, for the 337 Black respondents it is +/- 6.7 percentage points, and for the 301 Hispanic respondents it is +/- 7.5 percentage points. 

Suggested Citation: AP-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research. (September 2021). “Civil Liberties and Security: 20 Years after 9/11” [http://www.apnorc.org/civil-liberties-and-security-20-years-after-9-11]

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