Friday, March 27, 2020

Americans willing to sacrifice civil-rights to confront pandemic

To assess how Americans weigh the trade-off between preserving civil liberties and halting the spread of the coronavirus, The Atlantic conducted a survey last week, just as state and local governments were beginning to implement their most restrictive policies yet. The survey reveals a remarkable willingness to tolerate civil-rights violations in order to confront the pandemic, regardless of party affiliation.
We presented a nationally representative sample of 3,000 U.S. residents with eight possible policy responses to the outbreak, all of which may be unconstitutional, including forced quarantine in a government facility, criminal penalties for spreading misinformation, bans against certain people entering the country, and conscription of health-care workers. We also asked our sample to imagine that public-health officials had reviewed the policies and estimated that each would likely save some number of lives, hypothetical figures that we provided.
A majority of respondents supported all eight of these policies, most by considerable margins. The proposals with the lowest support were seizing businesses and banning all citizens and noncitizens outside the country from entering, but these policies still had 58 and 63 percent support, respectively. The proposals with the highest levels of support were banning noncitizens from entering the country (85 percent) and conscripting health-care professionals to work despite risks to their own health (78 percent). Both policies burden a defined minority of the population, so it’s not surprising that large majorities support them. But criminalizing speech based on its content, an idea antithetical to modern American constitutionalism, was also very popular: About 70 percent of respondents supported restricting people’s ability to say things that may qualify as misinformation. Likewise, 77 percent of respondents support suspending all religious services and gatherings, thereby restricting religious freedom. And even when we explicitly told half of our sample that the policies may violate the Constitution, the majority supported all eight of them—even the speech restrictions.
Perhaps the most striking feature of our results is the broad bipartisan endorsement of these liberty-restricting policies. Like other surveys, ours reflected a huge gap between Democrats and Republicans in approval of President Donald Trump’s handling of the pandemic: 34 percent of Democrats expressed approval, while 88 percent of Republicans did. One might have reasonably concluded that different policy preferences were driving these responses: that Democrats want aggressive government intervention, which they feel the president has failed to deliver, while Republicans—encouraged by Trump’s early dismissal of the outbreak—prefer a wait-and-see or laissez-faire approach.
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