Americans Support Strengthening U.S. Civil Rights Laws 

A national survey of American attitudes toward rights and responsibilities in the United States finds that large majorities now favor strengthening the nation’s civil rights laws, despite continuing partisan division.

Following an earlier poll conducted in July 2020 in which majorities agreed that rights in the U.S. face “serious threats” and are not “secure”, the new poll examines in detail American attitudes on civil rights issues in which rights are threatened, including voting rights, police reform, racial discrimination, equal opportunity, access to the basic necessities of life such as health care and housing, and social media regulation. 

After a year marked by the COVID pandemic, economic hardship, racial reckoning, political division and the attack on the US Capitol, an overwhelming bipartisan majority (95%) of Americans say “it is the responsibility of government to protect the lives, livelihoods and rights of all Americans.”  93% are “fed up with polarization” and “politicians who are intentionally dividing our country, and 96% believe that “Americans have a responsibility to respect the rights of others.”  Despite polarization, the pandemic year seems to have brought many Americans closer together.  In the July 2020 poll, 71% expressed the view that “Americans have more in common than many people think.”  By May 2021 that view had increased to 88%. 

The poll was commissioned by the Carr Center for Human Rights Policy at the Harvard Kennedy School, and is part of a Carr Center initiative, Reimagining Rights and Responsibilities in the United States, that is analyzing the condition of rights in the United States and the attitudes of Americans toward their rights and responsibilities as citizens and the responsibility of government for protecting and enforcing civil rights.

The Reimagining Rights project is directed by John Shattuck, Carr Center Senior Fellow and former US Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor.  The project is overseen by a faculty committee chaired by Carr Center Faculty Director Mathias Risse, with the participation of former Executive Director Sushma Raman, and the support of the Carr Center staff.  The nationwide poll of 2000 adults was conducted by NORC, an independent research institution at the University of Chicago, between May 10-20, 2021.  The margin of error for the study is +/-3.03%.

Key Takeaways:

1. Large majorities of Americans, with varying degrees of partisan support, favor improvements in the electoral process.

This includes protecting the right to vote, encouraging voting, and reducing voting restrictions, despite the campaign in Republican-majority state legislatures to enact new voting restrictions.  

91% agree that “voting access for disabled voters should be improved.”

  • 97% Dem, 91% Ind, 69% Rep

80% agree that “independent state commissions should determine the map of legislative districts to prevent partisan gerrymandering.”

  • 88% Dem, 79% Ind, 70% Rep

84% agree that “early voting should be equally available in every state.”

  • 94% Dem, 80% Ind, 55% Rep

70% agree that “the U.S. should establish automatic voter registration of all American citizens.”

  • 91% Dem, 70% Ind, 45% Rep

87% agree that “America should have national standards for voting and elections.”

  • 93% Dem, 89% Ind, 80% Rep

67% agree that “every state should allow people to vote by mail."

  • 91% Dem, 74% Ind, 37% Rep

84% agree that “the U.S. Justice Department should review new state or local voting regulations to ensure they do not discriminate against voters based on race.”

  • 96% Dem, 89% Ind, 67% Rep
 
A pie graph showing the percent of respondents who agree that the U.S. Justice Department should review new state or local voting regulations to ensure they do not discrimination against voters based on Race: 96% Democrat, 67% Republican, 89% Independent.

 

2. Reforming police practices to protect citizen rights and promote public safety is favored by large bipartisan majorities.

94% agree that “police should be accountable for violent or unlawful behavior.”

  • 97% Dem, 96% Ind, 91% Rep

85% agree that “police departments should implement transparent guidelines on when and how to use force.”

  • 94% Dem, 85% Ind, 73% Rep

89% agree that “complaints about police misconduct should be submitted to an independent review board.”

  • 95% Dem, 88% Ind, 82% Rep

78% agree that “Americans should have a right to sue police officers for violations of their civil rights.”

  • 90% Dem, 85% Ind, 60% Rep;
Bar chart showing perspectives on policing in the U.S., with 90% of Democrats believing Americans should have the right to sue police officers for violations of civil rights, 60% of Republicans, and 86% of Independents.

3. Bipartisan majorities support strengthening civil rights protections against discrimination on the basis of race, gender, disability, sexual orientation, or gender identity.

There is also bipartisan support for government investment in communities of color that have been denied equality and economic opportunity by previous federal policies. 

81% agree that “the laws against racial discrimination in housing and employment should be strengthened”

  • 93% Dem, 89% Ind, 64% Rep

89% agree that “laws against sexual violence and harassment should be strengthened”

  • 77% Dem, 65% Ind, 48% Rep

88% agree that “the government should strengthen the protection of people with disabilities against employment and workplace discrimination”

  • 96% Dem, 89% Ind, 76% Rep

77% agree that “laws should be strengthened to protect people from discrimination because of their sexual orientation or gender identity”

  • 94% Dem, 84% Ind, 53% Rep

91% agree that “government has a responsibility to prevent hate crimes and punish people who commit them”

  • 96% Dem, 84% Ind, 91% Rep

78% agree that “the federal government should support community development investment in African American, Native American and Hispanic communities that have historically been denied equality and economic opportunity as a result of federal policy”

  • 95% Dem, 78% Ind, 59% Rep
Bar chart showing percent of those who believe there should be increased legal protection against racial discrimination in housing and employment, with 93% Democrat, 64% Republican, and 89% Independent.

4. Some rights issues have especially intense political and ideological conflicts, such as gun rights and reproductive rights.

Bipartisan majorities, but with fewer Republicans, support gun regulation to protect public safety and a woman’s right to choose and make decisions affecting her body and personal life.  On other highly contested issues such as religious rights versus the right to nondiscrimination, opinions are closely divided.

On gun rights, 69% agree that the right to bear arms does not prevent regulating gun safety, ownership and sales.”

  • 83% Dem, 69% Ind, 52% Rep

On reproductive rights, 72% agree that “a woman’s ability to choose and make decisions affecting her body and personal life should be protected.”

  • 85% Dem, 72% Ind, 55% Rep

67% agree that “assault weapons should be made illegal.”

  • 89% Dem, 60% Ind, 44% Rep

On religious rights, there's a close split where just 53% agree “peoples’ religious practices should be protected even if they discriminate against women and gay people" – while 45% disagree.

  • 42% Dem, 51% Ind, 69% Rep

 

5. Large bipartisan majorities believe that Americans should have a right of equal opportunity.

This includes access to “basic necessities of life” including a job, healthcare, education, housing, and protection from environmental hazards.

92% agree that Americans “should have a right to the basic necessities of life.”

  • 97% Dem, 78% Ind, 84% Rep

84% agree “before America can be truly united, we need to give equal opportunity to the ‘haves' and the ‘have nots’”

  • 94% Dem, 90% Ind, 70% Rep

89% agree “people in the United States should have a right to quality education”

  • 95% Dem, 96% Ind, 78% Rep

80% agree it is the responsibility of the federal government to implement these rights, for example by “guaranteeing equal access for all Americans to decent housing.”

  • 91% Dem, 87% Ind, 63% Rep

 

 

6. The pandemic stimulated support for government action to “protect the lives, livelihoods and rights of all Americans,” with varying levels of partisan division.

85% agree the pandemic has demonstrated “the need for universal access to health care for all Americans”

  • 96% Dem, 85% Ind, 47% Rep

70% for “more government support for affordable housing”

  • 91% Dem, 80% Ind, 41% Rep

72% call for “more government support for public education”

  • 92% Dem, 76% Ind, 46% Rep

71% for “more government support for fair employment”

  • 92% Dem, 74% Ind, 43% Rep
Bar chart showing percent who agree that the pandemic has demonstrated the need for more support of universal healthcare, with 96% Democrat, 47% Republicans, and 85% Independent agreeing.

7. Americans are deeply concerned about social media companies amplifying disinformation and collecting personal data.
 

91% of Americans agree that “disinformation is a threat to our democracy.”

  • 94% Dem, 90% Ind, 88% Rep

95% agree that “social media companies should be required to protect the privacy of personal information.”

  • 95% Dem, 97% Ind, 93% Rep

81% agree that “social media companies should be required to prevent the spread of disinformation.”

  • 93% Dem, 79% Ind, 69% Rep

94% agree “there should be a law preventing social media companies from collecting and using personal data without the explicit consent of the data subjects.”

  • 94% Dem, 92% Ind, 94% Rep

 

8. Events over the past year have caused Americans to think more positively toward other Americans, particularly racial minorities and people of color.

A 77% majority agrees that “events over the past year have caused me to feel more positively toward Native Americans.”

  • 89% Dem, 71% Ind, 67% Rep

“Toward Americans of different races from my own” (75%)

  • 88% Dem, 70% Ind, 63% Rep

 “Toward Asian Americans” (76%)

  • 88% Dem, 71% Ind, 63% Rep

“Toward Immigrants” (63%)

  • 82% Dem, 61% Ind, 41% Rep

“Toward Latino Americans” (75%)

  • 88% Dem, 67% Ind, 64% Rep

“Toward other Americans” (62%)

  • 61% Dem, 64% Ind, 62% Rep

“Toward Black Americans” (71%)

  • 89% Dem, 67% Ind, 52% Rep
 

 

*All statements noting participants "agree" include aggregations of those who both "agree" and "somewhat agree," and similarly those who "disagree" encompass both respondents who "disagree" and "somewhat disagree."