Voters Seek Stronger Role for Congress in Checking President's Actions, Poll Shows

October 10, 2006 12:00 am

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Connecticut, New Mexico, Ohio and Pennsylvania Voters Want Protection from Terrorism But Not at the Expense of Civil Liberties

NEW YORK- Voters in four key states want to see Congress take a stronger role in providing checks and balances to the President’s actions in fighting terrorism, and voice a strong preference for House and Senate candidates who will oppose the President’s policies on the treatment of Guantánamo detainees, the use of torture and extraordinary rendition of detainees as well as secret searches of the private records of Americans.

Those are the findings in recent surveys of 600 registered voters in each of four states that will play a strong role in the makeup of the next Congress: Connecticut, New Mexico, Ohio and Pennsylvania.

“This poll shows that voters care deeply about protecting our civil liberties and Constitution, which have been under unprecedented attack by the Bush Administration,” said ACLU Executive Director Anthony D. Romero. “Voters in four of the most hotly contested battleground states have made it clear that preserving freedoms and the checks and balances of our democracy are critically important to them. For voters, protecting the civil liberties of Americans and upholding our Constitution are key issues in November’s elections, and these lessons apply to both Republicans and Democrats.”

“House and Senate candidates should know that while voters want protection from terrorism they don’t want it at the expense of their Constitutional rights,” he said. “We can be both safe and free. Those candidates who ignore civil liberties do so at their peril.”

In this time of an unpopular war and concerns about terrorism, education, the economy and health care, the survey reports that voters overwhelmingly view the country as on the wrong track (about six in ten voters) versus going in the right direction (about three of ten voters), and they also voice strong support for the protection of their civil liberties.

Six to seven in ten voters in the four states reject President Bush’s claim that he should be able to take whatever actions are necessary to protect America from terrorists without the checks and balances of Congress and the judiciary, while only about a third believe the President should have the power to take whatever actions he believes are necessary to protect the country from terrorism. The preference for checks on the President is higher in the four states than it was earlier this year when the same polling firm that conducted this survey asked a national sample in February to choose between two sides of the debate on Presidential powers. In that February survey a majority of voters (60 percent) said the President should not act on his own in deciding how to fight terrorism without the checks and balances of the courts or Congress. The percentages in the four states in this survey are higher: 64 percent in Connecticut; 66 percent in New Mexico; 69 percent in Ohio; and 72 percent in Pennsylvania.

Looking to the November elections, the voters in the four states strongly express a preference for candidates who oppose policies the President has sought in the name of fighting terrorism. For example:

  • Extraordinary rendition: Seven in ten would vote for a candidate who opposes “allowing government agents to capture people in foreign countries and secretly fly them to other countries, and then torture them to gather information about terrorism,” over a candidate who supports it;
  • Torture: More than two-thirds would vote for a candidate who opposes “the government torturing prisoners to gather information about terrorism,” over a candidate who supports it;
  • Military tribunals: Six in ten would vote for a candidate who opposes “putting detainees at Guantánamo military base on trial in military tribunals at which the suspects are NOT allowed to see all of the evidence against them and the government could use hearsay evidence obtained during the interrogation of other terrorist suspects” over a candidate who supports this; and
  • Holding detainees without charges: Six in ten would vote for a candidate who opposes “the government holding detainees at Guantánamo military base as it has for the past five years without charging them with a crime or without access to a lawyer,” over a candidate who supports this.

And, voters in each of the four states are also more likely to support the candidate who “says the President is wrong when he violates our laws and civil liberties in the name of fighting terrorism and we can protect America and at the same time uphold the Constitution” than the candidate who “strongly supports the actions the President has taken in the name of fighting terrorism and says we should be willing to give up some civil liberties to keep Americans safe.” The breakout of voter support for the candidate who opposes the President versus voter support for the candidate who supports the President: Connecticut (49 percent vs. 35 percent); New Mexico (56 percent vs. 31 percent); Ohio (52 percent vs. 33 percent); and Pennsylvania (58 percent vs. 30 percent).

The ACLU is a non-partisan organization that does not support or oppose candidates for elective office. The organization works with both Republicans and Democrats in advocating protections for civil liberties. Recently, the ACLU hired two Republican former members of Congress to assist with its lobbying efforts – Bob Barr of Georgia and J.C. Watts of Oklahoma.

The random sample telephone interview survey was conducted for the ACLU by the Washington, D.C.-based polling firm of Belden Russonello & Stewart Sept. 13-25, 2006, and has a sampling error of plus or minus 4 percent.

Results from the poll are available at Web users can answer all the poll questions for themselves online at this site. The web survey also lets visitors compare their answers to the official poll, and to other respondents in their state.

Every month, you'll receive regular roundups of the most important civil rights and civil liberties developments. Remember: a well-informed citizenry is the best defense against tyranny.

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