Study: Political leanings affect opinions of civil liberties vs. security tradeoff

RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK, NC— Liberal American adults are less likely to favor counterterrorism policies that reduce civil liberties, than are conservative American adults, according to new research from RTI International and Duke NUS Medical School.

In the study, published online in the journal Contemporary Economic Policy, participants were asked to rate themselves on a scale of extremely liberal to extremely conservative, then answer a series of questions about counterterrorism methods.

Participants were asked to choose between different scenarios in which combinations of counterterrorism policies were tied to the hypothetical monetary cost and probability of a major terrorist attack. The survey also asked for opinions on specific policies, such as harsh interrogation methods, government access to personal information, and profiling—using race, ethnicity, or country of citizenship to identify potential terrorists.

“All groups are willing to give up some civil liberties if doing so will reduce the risk of a terrorist attack,” said Brent Rowe, senior economist at RTI and one of the study’s authors. “However, loss of civil liberties affects liberals more than conservatives.”

The study used data collected as part of a 2010 national survey RTI conducted for the Department of Homeland Security.

The study yielded many other insights into the relationship between political leanings and opinions of existing or potential national security policies. Among them were:

  • Liberals and moderates were strongly opposed to policies that would allow harsh interrogation methods in all cases.
  • Conservatives were less likely to rule out profiling as a method of identifying terrorism suspects.
  • Liberals were more likely to view counterterrorism policies that erode civil liberties as ineffective and susceptible to government abuse.
  • Liberals are less likely than conservatives to think that terrorists will attack the United States in the next 10 years.

 

 

Highlights

  • Liberal American adults are less likely to favor counterterrorism policies that reduce civil liberties, than are conservative American adults, according to new research from RTI International and Duke NUS Medical School
  • Participants were asked to rate themselves on a scale of extremely liberal to extremely conservative, then answer a series of questions about counterterrorism methods